“You cannot call yourself a true geisha until you can stop a man in his tracks with a single look.” – Mameha, in Memoirs of a Geisha
If most people who call themselves entrepreneurs were tightrope walkers, they’d be dead. You can’t call yourself an entrepreneur; it’s like calling yourself a saint. 1
Entrepreneurship is the last great adventure left in a society replete with the passive, predicated on consumption as a way to express belonging, status and generate meaning. The continents are explored; the mountains climbed. What can be thought has been thought: philosophy, music, visual arts are stuck in circular incrementalism. History is resolved; to be mainly political is to be silly. Only the perennially undergraduate sentimentalists think yet another book or painting or slight variation on a beat will make a difference to the human race.
To be an entrepreneur is the only of the creative endeavours not subject to some white-haired, claret-sipping nob jotting his disapproval in the elitist pages of some dead-tree journal consumed only by other sad middle-aged nobs bunched up in commuter trains on a grey London morning. They are the elite, but of what?
To be an entrepreneur is to make something people want. Preferably lots of people. Preferably lots of rich people. And then to take their money, which they earned through the labour of their own hands and heads, to make them pay as much as you are able to extract for the value you add to their lives.
This exchange in value is one of the most noble acts of civilization. In a sense, it is the pinnacle of humanity. It is value by creative endeavour, money earned, not extracted by tears or a pointed gun. It is a fundamentally moral act, diametrically opposed to charity or taxes.
And so of those of you who call yourself entrepreneurs in your Twitter by-lines, I ask: what have you made that people have wanted? What have you created today that they have lined up to pay you for? Whose yearnings have you addressed, whose cravings have you satisfied?
Until you can show me those people, don’t think of yourself as an entrepreneur, think of yourself as an adventurer reaching for the stars. And when you reach them, you don’t need to call yourself an entrepreneur.
They will call you one.
1. Paraphrased from Michael Longley, who said the same of poets.