The voices that clamour: “Be enterprising dammit, be enterprising”

"The clock of fate ticks away. The dance of destiny continues. The marathon goes on, and on, and on." The final line in the famous Sydney Pollack film: "They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?" is not unlike the voices which are clamouring for the creation of companies as a solution to our economic conundrum. It’s as though by conjuring up the ‘good’ entrepreneurial spirit we will be able to scare away the 'evil spirits' of the crisis.

Now, I am not questioning how well-intentioned these calls are, nor even the doubtless necessity for founding new companies. I do, though, get the impression that these calls may be falling on deaf ears as there is no over-riding culture in our society today of actually going into business and starting companies.

The fact is that we cannot ignore the huge time gap between the compelling need for new business activities (which would replace present sources of wealth creation), and the actual maturation time of business projects with potential; the two are effectively happening at very different paces. Despite the urgency to develop make-work schemes to create short-term jobs, it is simply not paying off in terms of business start-ups and their pull effect on the economy.

These poor results are by no means a reflection of the profusion of financial and human resources on tap to entrepreneurs from an array of public institutions. Taking a look at the public support offered to new entrepreneurs here in Baskland, we see that it is on par with what is available in leading European countries. It’s also evident that there are no major 'cracks' in the programmes and instruments to aid entrepreneurs turn ideas into tangible business projects. I would even go so far as to say that we have an 'armada' of state-of-the-art schemes and instruments so that entrepreneurs can get their start. But it just does not seem to be materialising into new business start-ups.

So, what exactly is the problem then? Why can't we achieve satisfactory results in supporting entrepreneurship? Why is there a growing feeling throughout Basque society that there is a loss of impetus in terms of creating new business projects? How do we explain the fact that the majority of young people would much rather go into the civil service than into business?

I feel we are going about this problem the wrong way. The entrepreneurial spirit and the capacity of a society are closely intertwined with the identity of its members. Although this connection is certainly a positive one, entrepreneurship still needs to be taught and nurtured from infancy.

Sadly, however, I believe we are confused over the true meaning of the word 'entrepreneurship'. It seems to have been associated with the idea of business start-ups, structuring the support processes in search of business projects and/or putting a business idea out into the real world. I honestly do not believe this to be the right path to take in terms of encouraging our youth to become entrepreneurs.

Instead, entrepreneurship should be understood as the fostering of curiosity, promoting intellectual curiosity, and constantly questioning the status quo. Entrepreneurship is about risk-taking, being proactive, creative, and innovative. It's also about ongoing experimentation and the capacity to dialogue, but it is never about stigmatising failure. What must be understood, and what we ultimately must do in my opinion, is to incorporate entrepreneurship in the learning process in all school curriculums from an early age onwards.

When enterprising people are found, either individually or within their respective organisations, if given the chance to create something new, they will. We do not need to train creators of companies, but rather creators of new situations. The moment business and entrepreneurship come together, will be moment when new companies arise.

*Published in El Economista, 12/11/2012

Sabin Azua

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