Monday, November 24, 2014

The Age of Big Entrepreneurship 1: Confusing Personality for Impact

You may have more pressing questions in your life than to wonder if former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham is an entrepreneur or not, but just such a debate raged across my LinkedIn Pulse screen last week.  Beckham had recently been crowned UK Entrepreneur of the Year by a British magazine, and columnist Gene Marks took issue. 

“I don’t think Victoria Beckham is an entrepreneur,” he wrote.  “That’s because entrepreneurship is not just about business savvy. . .Or celebrity.  Or wealth.  Or even about financial success.  She’s got all that too.  It’s about the risk one takes to achieve those objectives.”

Marks then invoked the spirits of Sam Walton, who borrowed money to purchase a variety store, and Richard Branson who “started his record business with next to nothing in a church basement.” He also conjured up the story of a person who left her job selling wholesale clothing to pitch her own jewelry online, and another who left college and went into “their dad’s business selling electronic components to the computer industry.” Marks added, “These are the risk takers.  These are the dreamers.  These are the entrepreneurs.”

This might make for a good slogan for a weekend Tony Robbins retreat, but it’s hard to find a definition of entrepreneur that’s wandered further off the path of economic impact into the world of personality than this.  Welcome, my friends, to the 21st-century Age of Big Entrepreneurship, where the world revolves around the personal attributes of the individual.  In this case, Marks believed,  Beckham might be a successful businesswoman, but she’s no entrepreneur—just “ask any successful entrepreneur who took risks and suffered failures and they’ll tell you there is a difference.”[2]

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Mount Auburn Cemetery Redux: More Dead Entrepreneurs

I returned to the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Watertown/Cambridge last weekend, my second visit this year.  (See here for the June 2014 post, I See Dead Entrepreneurs.)  I don't generally spend this much time hanging around cemeteries, but Mount Auburn is a very special place, and one full of folks worth meeting--nearly 100,000 at last count.  The leaves also happened to be turning and--while I sound like a old, doty leaf-peeper writing that--Mount Auburn is a world class arboretum.  And sometimes it is fun to indulge my inner National Geographic photographer.

In my last visit I was collecting entrepreneurs, and I was interested this time in adding to that list.  But it's worth saying that Mount Auburn itself is also one of the most interesting social innovations of the 19th century: go visit King's Chapel graveyard in Boston and then head out to Mount Auburn.  It's hard to be more innovative than changing the way people think about death and remember their loved ones.

Below is King's Chapel on a summer day in 2009.

Monday, November 3, 2014

When Fortune Accidentally Lands in Your Mailbox

I am fully capable of playing Mickey the Dunce on most any occasion, but multitasking is my forte.

A few weeks ago I tried to purchase a 1954 Saturday Evening Post on eBay.  Unfortunately, I was also answering email, booking a trip, and trying to figure out why the cat was tormenting me.  Needless to say, last week I received a Fortune magazine from 1952.  Brilliant.  Wrong magazine, wrong year.

And now that I think of it, I haven't seen the cat for a while, either.

There is a silver lining to my tale of woe, however: this particular edition of Fortune magazine turned out to be absolutely fascinating.

I wasn't alive in April 1952, but it wasn't exactly the Dark Ages, either.  We now know the American Baby Boom was in full swing, life expectancy in the US was almost 69 years, Bill Clinton and George Bush were both well out of diapers, I Love Lucy (in one memorable evening) attracted 10 million viewers, and a killer fog descended on London resulting in the first use of the term "smog."  That all feels pretty modern.

Though--and I write this with some surprise--there's nothing quite like a big, fat, colorful magazine from 1952 to remind us just how far we've really come.  David Lowenthal said famously that the past is a foreign country; with that in mind, let me take you for a quick tour of America in 1952.

First of all, where did Fortune get this picture--a 1933 Christmas Tree Shop?  Was this really the best example of the average American consumer in 1952?