Losing purpose in your (working) life?
Imagine that at the end of your life you guide your friends through a gallery, which documents your life in the form of pictures and videos. Are you happy with the exhibits you have collected about your life so far? Are you missing an essential part, your life dream, which might forever remain hidden in your mind? Or worse, the exhibition is threatening to become boring, because it looks just like the biographies of so many others and, with the exception of your childhood images, doesn’t capture your individuality. Somewhere in between school, your first apprenticeship, studies, and career something appears to have been lost, which as a child promised you career aspirations such as astronaut, footballer, singer or dancer, fully exploring your individuality and uniqueness. As one of a number of many gears in the machinery of working life, do you feel as if you are being sold below your worth and caught in the trap of your daily work routine? Even though you have a passion which you would like to pursue professionally. But your life circumstances – family, a well-paid job, perception of status, and lack of the know-how of how to pursue it – force you to remain stuck in a corporate slave setting and continue to shuffle listlessly through the entrance of your workplace every day until you retire?
This or something similar is what I often hear from executives (even the successful ones!) and mature students in my courses at the St. Gallen University. Even my young bachelor and master students mostly pursue classic careers such as consultant, banker, or manager. But the wind is changing! In our turbulent times, in which politics can seemingly not find any solutions for the many problems of our world, and in which digital technologies facilitate us newcomers entry into more and more markets and branches, we are increasingly realising that we can take our future into our own hands and become self-employed with our own start-up or be entrepreneurial and innovative in the existing working environment – as employees. Our human capital is dedicated to a new purpose.
Entrepreneurial Living is the answer!
You don’t need a business idea to become self-employed or to become innovative. It requires little to no funds to start a purposeful business. You are already equipped with everything you need to start right now. There is no excuse to not try right away. Forget the business plan, go straight to Plan B. Columbus wouldn’t have discovered America if his journey to India had been successful. Entrepreneurial Living is a great way of life, to spend one’s life in entrepreneurship can have a significant effect on the individual as well as on society. No matter whether we plan to develop the new Amazon, open a bar, or start a charity with friends: there are a thousand reasons to launch something – and there is an entrepreneur in all of us!
Surely you have played different entrepreneurial roles over the course of your life already. You may have in your youth as a «Teeniepreneur» or «Studentpreneur» experimented playfully with your hobbies, be that as a drummer in the school band or as a charitable environmental activist in the self-founded student society dedicated to crisis relief. As a young academic in their first employment situation in a consulting company one may start as a «Parttimepreneur» in order to solve an interesting client issue in what little free time is available, already more or less consciously playing with the idea of turning this hobby into a profession at some point. The pre-programmed exit from the always popular consulting business, which previously would have certainly led up to the CEO seat of a big firm or established medium firm, now leaves room for an entrepreneurial career. The «Geek- and Techiepreneur» work on an algorithm which is intended to change our daily consumer behaviour on the internet. Be it aiding in the search for the still latent wishes of clients or the internet of things, which connects our devices, to run maintenance works automatically, up to the close future, to fill our fridge digitally via the internet with basic foods. With an idea stolen from the USA, the copycat camouflaged as «Hipsterpreneur» tries to jump into modern entrepreneurship via the fast train of pop culture. “Are you already founding something or are you still working – are you maybe even studying?” an adapted version of the most successful contemporary advertising slogan seems to be the message on twitter, naively misjudging how much more work being self-employed means compared to being employed. The feeling of belonging to a self-fulfilment culture, observable in students of Generation Z (born after 1999) or young professionals of Generation Y (born between 1980 and 1999), initially dulls the eye for one of the most work-intensive occupations, which can be chosen for entry into working life or for a career change; but also for one of the most fascinating and most motivating occupations imaginable, since it is about realising one’s own ideas, born from one’s own capacities. Anything goes for the different types of human capital for an entrepreneurial purpose!
The temptation of modern entrepreneurship
The university drop-out in his mid-twenties, who declares war on the established leaders of corporations in their mid-fifties, becomes the new star of a popular culture which does not pay regard to conventions or the managerial lifestyle. Who does not want to switch from the dependent relationship of a seemingly endless career ladder in a large firm onto the fast track of making a quick million with a cool start-up? More and more people appear to entertain these more or less realistic thoughts, thus breathing a long-thought forgotten vital spirit of innovation and experimentation into the national economy. And even failure, the flip-side of successful entrepreneurship, becomes part of the “Game of Life”.
The forgotten of the arena of being faster, prettier, and better on the internet are much discussed examples. Or does anyone still remember LetsBuyIt.com, once a leader in online shopping during the 1990s and once as well-known in Europe as Amazon.com? Not to mention the many who are stranded next to the Steve Jobs of this world or those beaten in competition with the Mark Zuckerbergs. Both, the «Superpreneur» as well as his failed rival, are nevertheless statistical outliers on the highest or lowest ends of the spectrum of success, which makes up an entire range and variety, the temptation of modern entrepreneurship.
The possibility to be able to dedicate oneself to an interesting problem with all of one’s senses and energies, tempts us all. We feel transported back to our youth, when the world was open to us and we were pursuing our desired occupation according to our abilities. The difference to back then is that we have now arrived at a stage in our career where we have gathered more or less of private and professional knowledge and thus have the factor determining success in entrepreneurship – experience. Experience geared towards a previously unsolved, important problem is the starting point for one’s own entrepreneurial future.
Technology democratisation and the serial killers of opportunities
But how do I find a great problem that I can combine with my experience? The digitisation of ever more corners of our living areas fuels the democratisation of areas that were previously mostly protected. As clients, but also as suppliers, we take part in business processes which were previously reserved for companies. When we rate a restaurant that we have visited during our weekend trip to Barcelona on TripAdvisor, or a private apartment in the old town on Airbnb, we are simultaneously clients and content providers in a new supply chain on the internet, which seems to hold a nearly endless number of business ideas. Whether you are an MBA student, who adds a management degree to a technical apprenticeship, or a mother on a sabbatical, interrupting her steep career progression to raise children. Ask yourself: Which problem keeps me awake and lets me experience the familiar flow, where I am looking for solutions for hours without paying attention to the time, experimenting with thoughts, pen, and paper until I get closer to the solution to the problem? Am I concerned as a «Social- or Greenpreneur» with the solution to a water problem in a developing country that I have just visited? Am I searching as an «Intrapreneur» for a new solution to a problem from within the safe walls of my company? Maybe I am a «Friendchisepreneur» finding an ally who will work with me on a shared passion, such as a gym for young female Muslims in Turkey (a current example from our MBA programme at the University of St. Gallen)? Or am I a «Papapreneur», a young father in a new, unfamiliar, and maybe still uncomfortable role, looking for kindred spirits, who want to revolutionise education with me, at least a little, protected by my experience and knowledge? Real serial offenders make use of their experience. The «Serialpreneur» executes one business idea after the other and often ends up successful with idea two or three, since those later ideas profit from the experience gained from the first start-up. The invested capital defines its purpose along the road.
From “Playing Happy” to “Being Happy”
In the interconnected world of our entrepreneurial society, it is important to find and develop one’s role identity within entrepreneurial activity. What motivates you to create an innovating project, or to start your own company?
It’s much easier to stay in your comfort zone and not go the extra mile. However, human beings, unlike animals, strive for meaning. The statistics about happiness are incorruptible and frightening. American Nobel laureate Edmund S. Phelps found that 95% of our overall happiness depends on our happiness in the workplace. The alarming reality? In recent years, the proportion of happy employees has decreased by 50% worldwide. Happiness research clearly shows that we should find our identity in what we do! This is one of the reasons why entrepreneurs are happier than the general population — they have signed their personal declaration of independence with their startup. So it’s time for something to change.
Your entrepreneurial income is likely not money at first, but time that is meaningfully lived instead of spent in meaningless activities. True entrepreneurs reward themselves with independence, self-determination, and self-contentment, supposedly forgoing leisure time, and—for the start—money and fame. Devoting all your senses and energy to an interesting problem motivates student founders as well as managers in companies who, as intrapreneurs, drive innovation. Both share the passion to shape the future with their very own unique entrepreneurial identity.
The type of entrepreneur we represent depends heavily on our social identity. Identity poses the questions, “Who am I?” and ”What is my role in society?” As research has shown, answers to these questions have a significant impact on our entrepreneurial identity as “Darwinist”, “Communitarian,” or “Missionary.”
Darwinians, Communitarian, or Missionary?
Darwinians found companies out of an economic self-interest. They are competitive and driven by their own pursuit of profit and growth. The survival of the fittest transforms into a winning mentality to be far better than their competitors. Valentin Stalf, who moved out without any significant banking experience of his own, founded a bank after studying at the University of St. Gallen, according to the Nike slogan just-do-it. Meanwhile, he rolled out his smartphone bank “N26” internationally in Europe, USA and Asia with financial support and a company valuation on the scale of a Unicorn. He exemplifies the typical attitude: anything goes for internationally ambitious founders, no matter how small you start and how big the competition may be. These are true Darwinians – in the best sense of the word.
The Communitarian wants to use his products or services to add value to his community. He is a group-oriented person. Therefore, communitarians often start with a self-experienced problem and develop an improved solution for the people around them. Their entrepreneurial salary is above all to be recognized by their community. With her company Ava Science, Lea von Bidder strives to improve the health of women with new technologies like the fertility tracker. In doing so, she pursues the goal of developing a product that has a high priority for herself as well as for the women in her peer group.
Missionaries seek to make the world a little better with their products and unique solutions to existing societal problems. Often, they use their company as a platform to spread their political, social, or environmental visions. They are convinced that their actions can positively influence the well-being of others. A possible improvement in social welfare drives them to peak performance. We can find these traces in very successful companies. For instance, Kate Fu strives for making the world a bit more loving to children. In the very busy times of working parents she produces products that accompanying parents to grow up together with children with reading in an intimate and loving way that promotes warm parent-child relationships. Today she has 300 sales channels and business lines in 29 provinces and cities in China.
Whereas a few years ago, especially the students of European Business Schools were still described as thoroughbred Darwinians, successful hybrid forms of these role identities are increasingly reciprocating. This is evident by the primarily Communitarian statement of Lea von Bidder, Founder of Ava with the fertility tracker for women, that also contains Missionary elements: “I am developing a product that I wish for myself and my friends to improve women health and their chances of conceiving.” Hence, not only Missionaries, but also Darwinians and Communitarians provide invested capital with a purpose.
A call for an entrepreneurial society
The entrepreneurial person starts his life through entrepreneurship. The Homo entrepreneurialis does something in order to create rather than to gain. Different from the Homo oeconomicus, he thus promotes a positive capitalism in an entrepreneurial society, which is not about greed. He lives without the state, which promotes a view of the person as an “application artist” for basic income, scholarships, sponsorships, and the like. The entrepreneurial person solves problems – ideally not just his own, but those of many other people–by using his idiosyncratic resources of social identity (Who I am?), human capital (What do I know?) and social capital (Who do I know?), the so-called means inventory. He transforms his dissatisfaction with existing solutions into positive energy, which is close to bursting thanks to the mental underload in his current life. Even when he has already tried a lot, was not always successful, and does not have a clear concept of his goal, he uses his imagination for a whole goals portfolio. By attempting a problem solution with the affected people, the business idea and business model develop. Only with the presentation of the business plan in its final version as Plan X, Y, or Z, does he tell his success story, but also the story of his failures, which brought him to this success through further development of the business model.
The entrepreneur becomes a modern storyteller, who moves others in the spirit of Aristotle with his ethos, logos, and pathos and inspires them to entrepreneurial action. Together or on different paths, they co-create an entrepreneurial society that shapes the future and enhance the invested human, social and financial capital purposefully.
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Fauchart, E., Gruber, M. (2011). “Darwinians, Communitarians and Missionaries: The Role of Founder Identity in Entrepreneurship“. Academy of Management Journal 54(5), pp. 935–957.
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Faltin, G. (2015). Wir sind das Kapital. Erkenne den Entrepreneur in Dir. Aufbruch in eine intelligentere Ökonomie. Hamburg: Murmann.
A prime example of a Socialpreneur is Muhammad Yunus.
Yunus, M. (2007). Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism. Public Affairs.
Sarasvathy, S. (2001). “Causation and Effectuation: Toward a Theoretical Shift from Economic Inevitability to Entrepreneurial Contingency“. Academy of Management Review 26(2), p. 243–263.
Grichnik, D. (2017): Entrepreneurial Living – 7 Steps to Independence, Kindle Edition, Amazon Media EU S.à.r.l., ASIN B075GFS2GZ. (in press at Anthem 2019).
Grichnik, D., Hess, M., Probst, D., Antretter, T., Pukall, B. (2018): Startup Navigator – Das Handbuch, Frankfurter Allgemeine Buch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main. (Forthcoming in English at Macmilan 2020).