Who are the entrepreneurs?
Without an understanding of the American entrepreneur, there is widespread ignorance of our distinctiveness as a nation, our ingenuity, our liberty, our basic decency, or our prosperity.
By way of example, one of the most commonly-held misperceptions is that entrepreneurs are motivated by greed. That is a myth. Most entrepreneurs are motivated by a passion to solve seemingly intractable human problems, or meet deeply felt human needs. Some of our multinational corporations were started by people who believed that the average person should have soap, shoes, a roof over their heads, affordable food, fruit in the middle of the winter, the ability to communicate with far away loved ones, and more recently computers and other access to information.
Those passions are what drive the entrepreneur, and carry him or her through the risks, setbacks, and outright failures along the way. Entrepreneurs tinker with ideas, and they take the risks associated with pursuing those ideas. If they fail, they lose. If they succeed, we all win – with new or better products and services. And yes, the entrepreneur has the potential for phenomenal financial success. But that success is directly tied not only to the efficacy of the entrepreneur’s solution, but also to the ability to grow the enterprise around that solution -- it is growth that creates the jobs and investment opportunities that enable others to profit from the entrepreneur’s success.
Some weeks ago, I saw this reflected in an episode of The History Channel’s series, “America: The Story of Us.” Entitled “Boom,” this episode traced (among other things) the Hamill brothers’ novel use of a rotary drill in oil derricks, Henry Ford’s inspiration to mass-produce cars that were reliable and affordable for the average American, and William Mulholland’s system of aqueducts and dams that provided water for a newly burgeoning Los Angeles. This is the story of America: ingenuity, engineering, and entrepreneurship in the face of seemingly intractable problems.