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Posts Tagged “The Second Coming”

In his prophetic post World War I poem The Second Coming, W. B. Yeats writes:

“The blood dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned,

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.”

There is a Chinese curse that goes something like, “May you live in interesting times.” We certainly seem to be living in one of those times. Peggy Noonan called it “big history” in her Saturday Wall Street Journal column.

My friend Jennifer Brown, author of the recent Amazon business best-seller Inclusion, relates a conversation she overheard last week that got me thinking about the special challenges to entrepreneurial health in a time of severe societal polarization and instability.

Jennifer reports hearing a Starbucks barista sharing about how thoroughly sick she was of the incivility of current political discourse and that she had come to a conscious decision: The minute she logged onto Facebook and saw a single political post, she would immediately log off.

I know how she feels. The political trope of our time has never been so fraught nor the urge to disengage more alluring. Everything is overly charged. It seems folks are bloody exhausted, yet endlessly drawn back into the emotional vortex of the pure drama of a seeming manichaean struggle. (Manichaeism, if unknown to you, is an early Christian heresy that divided the world into absolutes–pure back and white, pure right or wrong–a dualism with little middle way.)

This dominant current meme is reinforced by a report I heard mentioned on NPR recently, which cited a poll from somewhere that over 40% of couples who supported different candidates in the US presidential election ended up breaking up over their differences. Wow! So much for the golden example of James Carville and Mary Matalin, Democratic and Republican strategists respectively, who seem to live a very happy domestic existence despite their political disparity.

There is an almost addictive quality to the dramatic distortion so apparent in our present political moment. It can be all-consuming to the detriment of the focused passion essential to entrepreneurial success. Much like any addiction, our exciting and disturbing political moment allows us to avoid and skirt the very real challenges posed by our essential businesses and personal lives. It is just so much easier to fling ourselves into the exciting societal/political drama than to face the quotidian challenges of everyday life and business. It’s like embracing an escapist sugar high.

This is not to say that political passion and idealism of any stripe are not necessary and wonderful. I respect idealism, of course. Most successful entrepreneurs are idealists. How else do they summon the indispensable courage to attempt to create something out of nothing each day? It is an act of artistic faith, as well as of personal will.

There is an intuitive wisdom in the decision of the young barista mentioned above who chooses to cut off any further political discourse rather than get caught up in ad hominem manichaean disputation. It is sometimes necessary to disengage temporarily. It may well be a healthful disengagement from present polarities to maintain a practical and mindful center. There is no shame in keeping your attention on the main business chance.

Successful entrepreneurs are nothing if not practical people. They are risk-takers but not reckless adventurers. They may live on the cutting edge, but not without shrewd calculation. To maintain that focus this may be a time for the withdrawal from the tropes of the popular meme. It may be a time of making choices as to where to place limited personal energy. Just as it is good to stay clear of individuals who are energy sucks, so is it also sometimes necessary to resist the lemming-like madness of societal drama.

Entrepreneurial practicality militates a functional utile, a nuanced understanding that truth exists in the gray non-absolutes, not in the blacks and whites of political purity. It is important to recognize a bone-deep weariness that can sap creative and functional business energy.

So, this is not a time of tolerance and the truth of “the gray.” But we do not need to surrender to distracting, uncentering angry absolutes.

As Carl Jung warns us, “We all feel the opposite of our own highest principle must be purely destructive, deadly, and evil. We refuse to endow it with any positive life force; hence we avoid and fear it.” Thanks, Carl.

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frontiersman-ranger-scout-portrait-randy-steeleAmerica is historically a frontier society.  “Go west, young man,” Horace Greeley famously intoned.

What do you do if your country has the imagination of a frontier nation but has no physical frontier to conquer?  There is only one obvious outlet that comes quickly to my mind:  Entrepreneurship.  That is today’s new frontier.  It is a wondrously good fit for the courageous risk-taker who no longer has an unexplored American West or a mysterious deepest, darkest Africa or the longing to reach the moon, to challenge her.

There are several reasons the mythos of the entrepreneur has so captured the popular imagination.  It is certainly the allure of the cultural frontier ethos (self-made man hews out a place for himself in the raw wilderness.)  But I believe it is much more than that at the deeper level of our consciousness.  It is rather a visceral longing to create meaning itself.

We live in an anomic world that has little of the cohesive, society-knitting homogeneity of the past.  Ours is a restless, unmoored society that has no real outlet for the Randian hero, the existential voyager.  It is a world comfortable with irony, but bereft of spiritual essence—a world where the best and brightest increasingly compete for positions as bureaucrats and oligarchs.

In such a world, entrepreneurship engages the soul of those who long to find a human center and, I would argue, even a theological center, to anchor their raison d’etre.  For example, there is almost an apotheosis that has occurred around Steve Jobs and other entrepreneurial heros—a sort of low-level semi-deification of the innovative business striver.

We’re in a brave new world that longs for Truth, even if we are inarticulate and unclear in that longing.  Entrepreneurship is the real-life modern gamification of the hero’s search for the Holy Grail.  A new business is a self-created church for some.  It is a grotto of escape from the meaninglessness of the quotidien, a defiance of the amorphous new normal. Society has come to a place very similar to where William Butler Yeats was when he spoke into the political and economic vacuum between World Wars I and II:

“Things fall apart, the center cannot hold,
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”  (The Second Coming-1919)

Entrepreneurs hope that they can at least create a personal fulcrum where the center can hold.  They hope to create their own sea of tranquility, clarity and personal satisfaction–inured to societal dysfunction.

Yet there are evil portents out there concerning this dream (the entrepreneurial idyl.)  Note the recent survey by the Traveler’s Institute that reveals entrepreneurs are reluctant to start new businesses because they can’t rightly judge the costs of massive new regulation, tax increases, The Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank, and unfriendly governmental rhetoric.  (You didn’t build that!)  Carl Schramm, formerly of the Kaufman Foundation, reports a troubling economic trend:  a decline in the formation of new businesses.  Schramm notes that approximately 700,000 firms came into existence each year in the 2000s, but only 500,000 so far this decade.  (December 16, 2012, 4 Percent)

carl_schramm_5x7The importance of entrepreneurs to the health of the economy is not disputed.  The educational community’s response to this is basically, “No problem.  We will simply train up lots of new entrepreneurs by teaching a specialized skill competency around our traditional business school curriculum.”  But, as Schramm says, “…such entrepreneurship programs may be something like sleeve buttons on a man’s suit—they are there but serve no real purpose.”

Entrepreneurship is a most elusive concept.  I personally believe entrepreneurs simply are either hard-wired for passion, individualism, and an unshakable thirst for freedom, or evolve into those things as part of a fully lived life.  I always find it remarkable that there is a proliferating business in teaching up hundreds of thousands of insta-presto parvenu entrepreneurs.  It’s a bunch of snake oil hooey to my mind.  (There are  over 6,000 professors of entrepreneurship today who are putting out putative entrepreneurs, while every year new company formation steadily declines.)  It is a case of academia’s taking advantage of the deep longing for autonomy and personal meaning among students, who don’t realize that entrepreneurship is not an academic skill-set, but a spiritual frontier for the intrepid.

So beginning a new capitalist enterprise is as close as we are offered to pioneering on the old frontier.  As an old Eagles song once noted, “There is no more new frontier, we have got to make it.”

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