Entrepreneurship is a tool and every far-out concept is a nail. Get an idea, start a company, pivot, exit. While only a relative few startups turn into successful and sustainable businesses and only a very few chart a spectacular exit, entrepreneurship is perhaps the most effective tool for wealth creation the world has ever seen.
In Silicon Valley, particularly, and the Western World, generally, we celebrate the tool because of the singular result. Entrepreneurship for company building for the purpose of wealth creation and accumulation. Entrepreneurship follows that path, of course, and because it does, we often overlook its other uses. Imagine if we celebrated a hammer only for its ability to drive nails. We’d never grab a hammer to loosen a tight joint, tap a floorboard into place, shape metal, or any of a dozen other things for which a hammer is useful.
Among the insights derived from three weeks at sea is that entrepreneurship is more than a tool; it is a weapon.
In corporate and government spheres, entrepreneurship is a weapon to weild against complacancy and obsolescense. Where the tide flows in the direction of business as usual, entrepreneurship reshapes the coast line of what is to identify what can be. Entrepreneurial thinking surfaces ideas and innovations that re-energize stagnating businesses. The entrepreneurial “why not” disrupts public policy and brings social change. Remember, for a moment, San Francisco’s then-Mayor Gavin Newsom’s “why not” decison to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. That singular entrepreneurial moment challenged centuries-old assumptions and changed the course of the gay marriage debate in less time “than cell phones have been around.”
In the developing world, entreprenuership is a weapon to fight poverty, settle political unrest, deliver healthcare, and empower women and girls. Indeed, the Hillary Clinton-era State Department practically operated under the banner of Peace Through Entrepreneurship, running businsess-building initiatives in regions of conflict and instability to give those allies something better to hope for than more of the same.
This insight has led to another, a blinding flash of the obvious, perhaps, that entrepreneurship can be deployed for many more uses than company building. Where one might never form a company to tackle challenges where conventional wisdom suggest a lack of market size or value (that is, the absense of a clear wealth-building outcome), the skills and practices of great entrepreneurs are exactly the tools that can address the great problems of our time, or even the greatest problems within our corporate and public institutions.
Imagine what might be accomplished if the smartest among us decided to hack big government, a failing education system, local community revitalization, social inequities, or any of hundreds of issues that affect the quality of life in America and beyond.
As the MV Explorer motors toward Morocco, I’m exploring what might be accomplished if we embrace entrepreneurship in a broader definition. My bet is that many who play in the swing-for-the-fences game that has turned startup entrepreneurship into a business commodity would find more meaningful, impactful, and — I would wager — more predictably-profitable outcomes in this application of their entrepreneurial tools and talents.
When I first beat the drum for entrepreneurs to “make it matter,” I envisioned more challenging business problems or consumer applications than the parade of apps that I was then (and am still) seeing. These weeks away have given me time to ponder the question more completely, and come to this understanding that what matters most is not necessarily the businesses (although I don’t discount them at all) but the methods of entrepreneurship. At this point in the journey, I’m not entirely sure how that will play out in the next phase of my career, but I am certain that it will, and that it will change my path profoundly.