Business & Economics

Entrepreneurs as dissidents

Steve Blank

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

To see the video referenced above, click here.

Countries that put their artists and protesters in jail will never succeed in building a successful culture of entrepreneurship.  They will be relegated to creating better mousetraps or cloning other countries’ business models.

Entrepreneurs as dissidents

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple, he ran the Think Different ads, a brilliant marketing campaign to make Apple’s core customers believe that Apple was still fighting for the brand.

But in hindsight, the ad captured something much more profound.

The crazy ones? The misfits? The rebels? The troublemakers? To celebrate those people as heroes requires a country and culture that tolerates and encourages dissent.

Because without dissent there is no creativity.

Countries that stifle dissent while attempting to encourage entrepreneurship will end up at a competitive disadvantage.

Pushing the boundaries

Most startups solve problems in existing markets – making something better than what existed before. Some startups choose to resegment a market – finding an underserved niche in an existing market or providing a good-enough low cost solution.  These are all good businesses, and there’s nothing wrong with founding one of these.

But some small segment of founders are truly artists – they see something no one else does. These entrepreneurs are the ones who want to change “what is” and turn it into “what can be.“ These founders create new ideas and new markets by pushing the boundaries. This concept of creating something that few others see – and the reality distortion field necessary to recruit the team to build it – is at the heart of what these founders do.

The founders that make a dent in the universe are dissidents. They are not afraid to tell their bosses they are idiots or tell their schools they been teaching the wrong thing or to tell an entire industry to think different. And more importantly they are not afraid to tell their country it’s mistaken.

Freedom of speech, expression and thought

Entrepreneurs in the United States take for granted our freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of thought. It’s enshrined in our constitution as the first amendment.

In the last few years I’ve traveled to lots of countries that understand that the rise of entrepreneurship will be an economic engine for the 21st century. In several of these countries, the government is pouring enormous sums into building entrepreneurship programs, faculties and even cities. Yet time and again when I ask the local entrepreneurs themselves what questions they have, most often the first question is, “How do I get a visa to the United States?’

For years I thought the reason hands were raised was simply an economic one. The same countries that repress dissent tend to have institutionalized corruption, meaning the quality of your idea isn’t sufficient enough to succeed by itself, you now need new “friends in the right places.” But I now see that these are all part of the same package. It’s hard to focus on being creative when a good part of your creative energies are spent trying to figure out how to work within a system that doesn’t tolerate dissent.

Lessons learned

  • Entrepreneurs require the same creative freedom as artists and dissidents
  • Without that freedom, countries will be relegated to cloning others’ business models or creating better versions of existing products
  • History has shown that the most creative people leave repressive regimes and create elsewhere
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Comments to "Entrepreneurs as dissidents":
    • Hi Steve,

      What is the definition of “innovation”? In my field, the definition of “technology” has been in debate for 2,000 years. Innovation seems to be just as illusive to me.

      It seems to me that the value of many innovations is questionable, and that even calling these things “innovations” is a form of question begging.

      What exactly is so innovative about Facebook? Social networks existed long before it. Facebook’s main innovation seems to be the application of behavioral economics and old-style bait and switch: create a network with exclusivity that one wants to join (as opposed to MySpace), and then switch the service to the same thing as myspace.

      [Report abuse]

    • Steve

      I’m going to ignore the rest of the corporate propaganda in this post (the U.S. is hardly a country with a rich tradition of public dissent and the attempt to connect corporate speeech to free speech is really creepy) and just note that the Steve Jobs worship is downright silly. There are, in fact, software developers who really are innovative and who really do value dissent. They’re people like Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation. These dissenters don’t hold copyright trolls like Jobs in high esteem, and unlike the “entreprenuers,” they’re not in it for the money. Oh, and the software they make works just fine, too.

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    • Gerard Bickers

      Could not entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs be seen as authoritarian?

      Jobs at Apple established a culture of extreme secrecy, and even sued reporters for reporting upon leaks concerning Apple’s products. Your talk of values of freedom stands in stark contrast with the reality of Apple’s OS environment, which is much less free (free as in freedom) than Android or Linux.

      Is there irony in the idea that our government and culture can promote freedoms, while our business institutions are run by little panjandrums? Your essay reminds me of people like Mark Zuckerberg, who was free to access photos of his classmates and use them to compare their relative attractiveness.

      If we really love freedom, why not extend our first amendment and other rights against entrepreneurs themselves?

      [Report abuse]

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