Entrepreneurship still faces some endemic challenges: financing, scale, ecosystems. Yet the playing field is being fundamentally altered by the speed of technological advancement, new markets being increasingly similar and the inevitability of global warming. In this context, entrepreneurship must redefine itself as purposeful, globally interconnected and tech-ideology agnostic. It fundamentally needs to embrace the fact that, primarily, monetary creation comes out of creativity, design thinking and innovation.
There’s a lot of fuss about creative start-ups disrupting businesses. But disrupting is probably the least meaningful part of the entrepreneurial value chain – at least it’s the least constructive. It just happens in the wake of designing new value. Without that end, the difference between disruption and destruction is academic. Outside of this obvious fact, the meaning of disruption itself needs to be disrupted.
The term disruption has become synonymous with a certain type of tech-innovation – mainly out of the Bay area and the entrepreneurial hubs looking to emulate Bay culture. In general, these disruptive ideas seem to display identical idiosyncrasies – maybe even ideologies. There is a core belief that tech by itself will save the day or even the world; that new technologies emerging out of these hubs are somehow superior to pre-existing ones; that, paradoxically, advancement is predetermined by some laws (e.g. Moore’s law, Kurzweil’s law of accelerating returns, Andy and Bill’s law …); that ethical consequences not yet fully thought through (e.g. digital privacy, AI ethics, energy profligacy) will be handled adequately by capitalism’s “invisible hand”.
We don’t need to be normative about start-up credos, or technology at large, but we must recognize that the impulse that should help us break down industry preconceptions often still exists within the confines of narrow belief systems too; systems that aren’t fully technology- and ideology-agnostic. We need design thinking, or similar reflective abilities, to put human purpose and meaning ahead of what comes out of technology silos.
Not that far back in history, when the world was geopolitically more multi-polar, technologies embraced by entrepreneurs (state-funded or not) were more diverse. In the USSR, they came up with all sorts of interesting technologies whose development was not driven by simply adding incremental value for consumers and shareholders as in the West (e.g. Sputniks, ekranoplans, jet trains…). Out of Gaullist France came big centralized systems like the TGV (still the fastest wheeled train in the world), Minitel (the precursor to the internet) etc. But their influence is long gone now (along with communism and French philosophy). There are alternatives out there today, such as in Scandinavia, Japan, China and some emerging powers. However, Chinese tech is still to a large extent emulating the Western model, and other nations don’t have the hard power to back up their vision.
On the micro level, start-ups are caught up by the slipstream of the parameters others have previously set. Phone makers at large followed Apple’s example assumed smartphones were all about sight and screens; drone makers assumed that small airborne objects should replicate ordinary, large-size airborne objects, (e.g. helicopters and planes rather than, say, airships and ekranoplans), or car-makers that EVs should adopt combustion car designs with hoods etc.
The list is endless. Businesses get caught in a weird track dependence that is often repeated by those who could best liberate us from these shackles: entrepreneurs.
In the future, entrepreneurs must go for technologies that serve a purpose and possibly equalize markets. The Copenhagen Letter is an example of a manifesto that considers the repercussions of ideologically loaded technologies. Entrepreneurship and technological advancement must be understood and nudged by democratic institutions to serve societal needs and a greater purpose.
Design is the creative and cross-disciplinary human capacity that could commodify and subordinate technology to become human-centric. Design free-thought must be embraced by entrepreneurs to take a leadership role for the greater good, free technological advancement and monetary growth.