“Do you want to start your own business, or work for someone else?”
When a team of researchers from Gallup asked a representative sample of young Americans in 2005, 72 percent of respondents aged 30 or younger were in favor of entrepreneurship. But three years ago that figure had dropped to 63 percent.
Even the percentage of startups in the US, defined as firms less than a year old, fell by half between 1978 and 2011. Indeed, in 2013 Americans started fewer businesses than they did in 1980.
These figures suggest that the entrepreneur's’ tribe is shrinking, at least in the US.
Is Entrepreneurship a Fad?
I will digress a little before answering.
Immediately after the Second World War, researchers asked the French who had defeated the Germans. Fifty-seven percent were grateful to the USSR and only 20 percent said the U.S. brought Hitler down. When the survey was repeated in 2015, the places had been reversed.
Today, 54 percent of French people believe the U.S. defeated the Nazi Germany and only 23 percent credit the former Soviet Union.
My purpose behind sharing the survey is to highlight how unreliable public memory is – and to warn you not to be carried away by trends.
Most of us may not even remember it but forty years ago, we were clamoring to go to the Moon, Mars and explore the Solar System.
Back then, every hardworking, intelligent person wanted to be an astronaut, a rocket scientist or an astronomer and join the ranks of Yuri Gagarin, Carl Sagan, Neil Armstrong, Wernher von Braun or Sergey Korolev — just as today’s bright millennials want to be entrepreneurs.
At its peak, the US invested four percent of its GDP in NASA. As this image from the Soviet Union shows, the trend was not limited to the US. Back then, every hardworking, intelligent person wanted to be an astronaut, a rocket scientist or an astronomer and join the ranks of Yuri Gagarin, Carl Sagan, Neil Armstrong, Wernher von Braun or Sergey Korolev — just as today’s bright millennials want to be entrepreneurs.
Everywhere in the world, young people wanted to be space explorers.Look up any article dealing with technology from that era. Then came the 1970s and we lost interest.
The last humans landed on the Moon in 1972; 45 years have passed since the last lunar landings and we are still nowhere close to going there again. It is not that we lack technology. We have simply lost interest. It was not considered cool any more to become an cosmonaut or an astronaut.
Entrepreneurship is a Product of Our Era
Save for Elon Musk, The Martian, or occasional news from the International Space Station we rarely bother. Instead, when we think of future, we imagine faster computers, Internet and becoming one with robots. As a species, we have become more inward-looking and entrepreneurship, at least in the popular imagination, is a product of this era. Indeed, it is the zeitgeist of our times.
Although there is nothing wrong in moving with the times, we can excel if we are aware of our limitations.
Today’s entrepreneurs are encouraged to live their dreams. Authenticity is priced, so is hard work and success.
And what do we receive in turn? A lot of the time, it is some app that lets us spend hours chat with strangers or our friends or upload cat images; some of them priced at a billion dollars or more.
We are not solving big problems any more. Most of us are bent on creating a new photo-sharing app or selling something no one needs — and we are doing that for two reasons: so that we can join the tribe of entrepreneurs (as presented to us) and be seen as cool - after all who wants a 9 to 5 job when you can work for yourself and get rich fast.
But being an entrepreneur is so much more than creating more of the same, it means being a thinker, a problem solver, someone who thinks outside the box. The true entrepreneur does not care what name he/she is called as long as they get to solve the puzzles they face.
What the New Entrepreneurship will be Like?
If you had told anyone in the 1960s that humans would go to the Moon and then stop going there, people would have laughed at you. A future without space travel was inconceivable. Our times are not that different.
We talk of singularity, computing and smart-stuff. We cannot think of a business without apps or chats or something related to the Internet. To be a successful entrepreneur in this era means thinking beyond the superficial.
As the data at the start of the blog shows, millions of Americans are opting out of entrepreneurship. A big reason is that real entrepreneurship does not live to the hype — it is not easy or cool.
For instance, any work in biology, green energy and other unconventional places sounds weird to our ears. But that is where the next generation of jobs may lie.
So if you want to be an entrepreneur, keep your eyes open and solve a problem. We cannot stress the importance of solving a problem. It is difficult, but that’s where the fun and the rewards are.
Entrepreneurship courses, such as those run by Fulcrum, can get you started but you will have to make the journey on your own.
It is tough, but the sooner we realize that entrepreneurs are not pot-smoking programmers but they are real people who solve real problems, the better it will be for all of us.
To sum up, do not get carried away by fads because they are based on public memory, which we have seen (the survey in France) is fickle.
An entrepreneur today would have been the knight of the Medieval Ages, an astronaut of the Space Age or a ship captain during the Age of Exploration — a man or woman of action who does some real work. Look around you, find a problem and solve it. You will be happier and successful, irrespective of the zeitgeist.
Ross, Peter :(2016, March 18). Unrealistic Expectations: Startups, Young Men, and Suicide - Retrieved September 07, 2016, from https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/unrealistic-expectations-startups-young-men-and-suicide-wcz/
Gallup, I :(2005, April 12). Majority of Americans Want to Start Own Business. Retrieved September 07, 2016, from http://www.gallup.com/poll/15832/majority-americans-want-start-own-business.aspx
Pontin, J : (2012, October 24). Why We Can’t Solve Big Problems. Retrieved September 07, 2016, from https://www.technologyreview.com/s/429690/why-we-cant-solve-big-problems/
Surowiecki, J : (2016, June 15). Why Startups Are Struggling. Retrieved September 07, 2016, from https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601497/why-startups-are-struggling/
Zetlin, M : (2013, December 17). Survey: 63% of 20-Somethings Want to Start a Business. Retrieved September 07, 2016, from http://www.inc.com/minda-zetlin/63-percent-of-20-somethings-want-to-own-a-business.html
[L’enseignement de l’ignorance] Quelle est la nation qui a le plus contribue a la defaite de l'Allemagne en 1945 ? (2015, May 08). Retrieved September 07, 2016, from http://www.les-crises.fr/la-fabrique-du-cretin-defaite-nazis