ENTREPRENEURSH*T: How We’re Killing The Thing We Love

What’s happened to the ideal of entrepreneurship?

When did it stop being about passion, and turn into a bloodless cycle of start-ups and scaling, going big, going public and cashing out? What’s happened to our hearts?

I was in Mexico City last week to give the keynote speech at Esomar Best of Mexico City, where I was invited to lunch at the Mexican Stock Exchange. I watched the numbers scrolling endlessly across the monitors as money changed hands and business was transacted amidst the hive of activity on the trading floor; the nerve center of this economy, it felt oddly removed from the real world of business.

Afterwards, I stepped out into the sunshine and started down the block. I came across a vendor who was selling beautiful handmade woodcarvings. As I looked at his work and at him, seeing the pride he took in his creations, it hit me; here was a real, honest to God entrepreneur. He’d sourced his own raw materials; he’d applied his skills and gifts and energy to creating his product (skills probably passed down through generations) with his own hands. This man was a genuine economic change agent; supporting his family, driving the economy of Mexico, engaging with his customers in the most direct and honest way possible. These handiworks were uniquely his, and wrapped up in his act of creation was his integrity and his living. If that’s not the definition of an entrepreneur, what is?

Sadly, these days, it’s less about passion, and more about the money chase. We don’t often see hands-on entrepreneurs like the woodcarver outside of developing countries. We’ve lost touch with that kind of deeply personal enterprise. As first-world entrepreneurs, our attention is taken up with trying to be the most disruptive new kids on the block, making the next big technological breakthrough to create the next must-have app or gadget; with wooing venture capital and plotting grand exit schemes.

Is that really all there is? What happened to adding value to world by using your skills and gifts to produce something meaningful, something that engages your heart and mind? What happened to passion? And how do we get it back?

Here are my thoughts:

One: Stop obsessing over fundraising. Get back to basics. All that that vendor needed was wood, and some tools– and the skills and love to make it into something extraordinary. What are your skills and materials?

Two: Start looking at your business as a craft, rather than as a commodity. Take pride in what you do; throw your heart into it. Your product will show it; your customers will know it.

Three: Figure out why you’re in business – not the how much, or the how big, or the how disruptive – the why. Somewhere in the why is your purpose. Search it out, excavate it from the bullshit, and give it pride of place. I’m in business to delight my customers – full stop. Money follows because of that, but that’s not and never has been what drives me.

Four: Be an artist in your heart. Create something out of nothing for the purpose of adding beauty or value to peoples’ lives.

If none of this resonates for you, you might not be an entrepreneur – and that’s okay, too. The world needs all sorts of people. But if it does – and you know who you are – commit again to your passion. Get back to the basics of what turned you on to begin with. Court those bright dreams again, and fall back in love with your purpose.