How looking back can help today’s entrepreneurs look forward
Friday, April 14, 2017
Becoming an entrepreneur may be one of the most challenging things you've ever done, but it's probably also one of the most rewarding.
Day-to-day, you're focused on your business. Whether you're developing new ideas or handling customers, staffing and marketing issues — the to-do list goes on.
But have you given much thought to the bigger picture: How are you, as an entrepreneur, impacting society, and even the world? How are you influencing the entire course of history?
Joe Carlen, author of "A Brief History of Entrepreneurship," says entrepreneurship is more impactful than most people realize in changing history's path. His book charts how the pursuit of profit by private individuals has been a prime mover in revolutionizing civilization — how it's moved us forward, and other times, worked at the expense of others.
"There's a lot to learn from looking back at the history and the evolution of entrepreneurship over the past several thousand years," Carlen said in an interview with MultiBriefs Exclusive.
In his consulting work with entrepreneurs, Carlen noticed many of the business owners' goals went well beyond strictly making money — many wanted to change the world in some way. Many notable entrepreneurs throughout history had similar altruistic motivations, he said.
In the book, Carlen maps the course of human history through nine instances in which entrepreneurship reshaped the world. For example, we know Christopher Columbus as an explorer of new lands and peoples. But lesser known is that his main ambition in exploring the New World was actually an entrepreneurial one.
In April 1492, Columbus signed an agreement with the Catholic Monarchs called the Capitulations of Santa Fe. It stipulated that if his voyage succeed, he would be entitled to 10 percent of all the revenues of the new lands he discovered. Additionally, he would also have the option of buying one-eighth interest in any commercial venture with the new lands and receive one-eighth of the profits.
"Later, many colonial companies were privately held. That's something with a huge historical impact," he said. "The colonization of the world was entrepreneurial. And we really don't think of it that way."
While many of today's high-profile entrepreneurs — such as Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk — are both innovators and business owners, it wasn't always that way. Prior to the British Industrial Revolution, innovation and entrepreneurship were two separate worlds. Scientists were generally the ones creating new ideas and products.
"Today, entrepreneurship is tied in with innovation more than any other times in history," Carlen said.
So what can today's entrepreneurs take away from their historic predecessors?
The most successful entrepreneurs share a few common traits: tolerance for risk, persistence and independent thought that goes against the crowd. Additionally, resourcefulness — knowing how to survive the rough times and make ends meet when business is slow — is an important characteristic.
And while the ability to create something is important, executing and marketing your ideas is even more valuable, Carlen says.
"There are plenty of examples of people who were certainly very technically proficient, but they didn't necessarily reinvent the wheel," he said. "They adapted existing ideas. They knew how to promote them effectively."
Carlen advises aspiring entrepreneurs to stay focused and realize there's no such thing as too much planning.
"Generally, the entrepreneurs who plan best are more likely to survive and see their vision through," he said.
He also emphasizes the value of understanding the history of entrepreneurship.
"The farther back you can look, the father ahead you can see," he said.
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