Sunday, August 09, 2015

Enterprise Culture and The Entrepreneur

There are many different types of entrepreneurs but the Enterprise Culture, the official celebration of enterprise that dominate the media and our talk, highlight just one of them. And, this, a culturally biased version of the enterprise, is not just counter-productive as it does not fit into the context of many societies, but also regressive, it prevents rather than promoting possibilities of enterprise and innovation.

The dominant tale at the heart of enterprise culture is what I shall call the Pioneer Narrative. Think of the Wild West, the Gold Rush, the Unattached Man in search of jackpot, a sort of rough, manly version of creation. Played out in the United States, the primary exporter of enterprise culture narratives, this lies at the heart of our portrait of the entrepreneur as an young man, tough, unconstrained, stops at nothing, up against the nature but offered its bounty, its abundant land that lay there to be claimed. 

Enterprise existed much longer than the Wild West and it played out in different forms in different societies. It was often about creating possibilities within constraints, it was often about social sensibilities, it was often about connecting people with people, and it was often about kindness rather than toughness. That either-or version of enterprise culture, that there were feudal lords and then there were the entrepreneurs, the version so popularised by Marx (or a limited reading of what he wrote), overlooks all those traders, amateurs, pre-professional professionals, who carried on trades within constraints, social and natural, and yet performed services that kept life going and made progress possible. 

This version of enterprise, constraint bound and socially embedded, is not something that the enterprise culture, and its elaborate ecosystem of media promoters, venture capitalists, incubators and accelerators, take into account. And, hence, it does not fit in certain communities of societies. So, the French become lazy, Arabs garrulous and Bengalis nitpicking. They fall outside the enterprise narrative, so to say, and they fall from grace therefore, labelled for subservient existence in an world of enterprise triumphant.

Or, not, because the enterprise culture, dualistic, disconnected, and disruptive (in the real sense, and not as a badge of honour that modern entrepreneurs treat this as), does not sustain societies, but rather aims to tear them down. Because the enterprise culture puts individual pursuit of more at its heart, it aims to disregard all the surrounding influences that made enterprise possible, creating a sub-plot of entrepreneur as the superman, which is, at the least, misplaced, and at worst, destructive. Being an entrepreneur comes with an automatic disregard for the unfortunate, a triumphalist notion of being special people, of claims to a legitimacy through morality of giving jobs, of entitlement not to pay taxes or bearing any social responsibilities. 

But this undermines itself. Enterprises stumble as they fail to promote values beyond the immediate opportunity of money-making. The enterprise culture become an elitist thing, instead of the claims that anyone can do it. Whole societies sign themselves out, and the marauders become the flag-bearers of enterprise. The big business, the enemy of enterprise, become its poster-boy. And, as consequence, enterprise becomes status quo, waiting to be swept into the dustbins of history as the next wave of progress arrives. 

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