In the 1930s, a group of Hollywood executives tried to entice Samuel Goldwyn to join them in a project. Upon reflection, Goldwyn declined, saying, “Include me out.” Today, too many people are saying the same thing when it comes to solving the world’s problems.
While some level of progress around the world is undeniable, the challenges facing the world today are unparalleled. If you can, set aside momentarily the flagrant terrorism and threats of war. Focus for a second on the daily upheaval that is only sure to grow as today’s workplace (built on a 19th century manufacturing model) is supplanted by a workplace built on 21st century digital platforms, more automated and robotic than ever — requiring fewer people to achieve greater productivity. “Artificial Intelligence” isn’t so artificial when it decimates an entire marketing department. Moreover, this is happening at a rate of change also unparalleled in history.
Coming soon to a place near you: Top-tier companies are going to be dethroned as market leaders. More workers are going to be dismissed pre-retirement. Entire industries are going to be redefined. McKinsey says its polling indicates 80% of executives believe their business model is at risk, yet only six per cent are satisfied with the innovation prospects inside their companies. The trajectory of economic progress needs a much-steeper slope than what we have.
And this is happening against a backdrop of ominous human pain and suffering. Six years ago, Business Insider published “The 10 Biggest Problems In The World According To The EU”. What topped the list a half-dozen years ago? First came poverty, hunger and lack of drinking water; second, climate change; and, third, the economic situation. Google “world needs” for yourself, and you will find more current lists of world needs that echo this one. Problems are growing, not shrinking. Why has so little been done to address the modern world’s basic needs?
Many economists speak of GDP, the gross domestic product of a country; a few economists even talk about the GWP, the gross world product. Yet, these concepts are numbers-based, not human-based. We can change this. What’s needed is a new index that measures the most imminent needs of the world and makes it a commonplace concept, a “Gross Needs Index” (GNI), if you will. But we need more than a list; that is just a target for people to aim at.
What’s needed most is the immersion of everyone into an appreciation of the positive role of enterprise in society and how to use the tools of entrepreneurship. Where to start? The answer is easy: anywhere.
If we can start a worldwide discussion based on “needs”, it will become evident that this could quickly become the common denominator that slices right through any border or language. Governments, corporations, small businesses, nations, local communities, even families — all can be brought to the discussion table with the question, “What can we do to address the greatest needs we confront?” Get people to focus on the GNI for this year, enlist them to begin to address it on their level, and we may very well start to see wholesome progress. Immerse everyone in a focus on needs, and it could just be a significant catalyst for social progress.
In Search of Enterprise
Back in the 1980s, the world conceded (with the help of people like W. Edwards Deming and Joseph Juran) that a focus on quality was missing. Eventually, programmes on quality control blossomed. This was an early example of how organisations (profit and nonprofit) committed to changing the social ecology. Let’s take that kind of change up a few notches.
What if we simultaneously had a top-down, bottom-up approach? What if we could get a massive number of people (at a wide array of ages) to learn to be more enterprising; by that, I mean the definition of the word rooted in “initiative and resourcefulness”? What if we can simultaneously convince governments (which influence, if not control, educational systems) and corporations (which control human resource development) that — at every level — people need to study the essentials of what it takes to frame and meet a need?
Just for starters, consider this simple syllabus appropriate for people from five-years old all the way up to 65-years old and beyond:
- Solving simple puzzles
- Defining problems
- Understanding what’s needed most today
- Employing entrepreneurial thinking tools to solve problems
- Appreciating short-term versus long-term perspectives and the value of acting now with the bigger picture in mind
The idea here is to provide a course of study that starts in pre-school and never ends, even post-retirement. Can’t be done? Look at how the language and tools of quality have become embedded in society in the last four decades!
As someone who teaches entrepreneurship, works in the corporate world and serves on boards, and who has started businesses, I realise the fact that this can seem no more than fantasy. Yet, it is my firm belief that anyone can be more entrepreneurial — and everyone should try. Back in the 1800s, the British novelist Charles Kingsley noted, “We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about.” The notion of the entrepreneur as the person who risks everything to win as much of the world’s wealth as possible should be abandoned. Says Virgin CEO Richard Branson: “Being an entrepreneur simply means being someone who wants to make a difference.”
Yet the best way to view my proposal as more than a mere dream is to examine the exciting growth that is happening in the world while our sedentary governments and status-quo-content businesses muddle about in their bloated zones of comfort. Those more entrepreneurial minded are simply not willing to wait and they are showing the rest of us the way forward.
- Ellen Hunt’s list, “These Are the 50 Most Promising Startups You’ve Never Heard Of”. You’ll see here movers and shakers in industries as diverse as education, fashion, and space technology.
- Peter Daisyme’s list, “50 Inspirational Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2017: There are an incredible number of people moving and shaking the existing global business environment.” You’ll meet here people such as “Shradha Agarwal … president and co-founder of Outcome Health, a healthcare-decision platform that has grown rapidly since its founding in 2006. She also co-founded JumpStart Ventures in 2011 to help other entrepreneurs turn their great ideas into businesses. It now backs over 40 different companies.”
- Or, for inspiration, take less than two minutes to watch Mashable’s introductory video on “Boyan Slat [who, at 17] started ‘The Ocean Cleanup’ to create a system to clean the huge trash problem in the Pacific Ocean.” [see also Boyan Slat’s website]
What’s most needed now is to take all those people who, perhaps unconsciously, are saying “include me out” when it comes to the world’s innumerable problems and entice them to start thinking and acting like the entrepreneurs who are shaping an entirely new social ecology. Progress is desperately needed on all levels of society and on all kinds of problems.
Peter Drucker once quipped, “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” For any group that truly believes such a dismal dictum, include me out.
About the author:
Joseph Pistrui (firstname.lastname@example.org) has more than 30 years of management experience and is Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at IE Business School in Madrid.