Who Says Entrepreneurs Are Heroes? by Cyril Morong

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Who Says Entrepreneurs Are Heroes?
by Cyril Morong
Remarks prepared for the first HERO'S JOURNEY ENTREPRENEURSHIP FESTIVAL, March 31st, 2007 at Pepperdine University

Given that business is not always seen in a positive light in our society, it might seem like too much to call entrepreneurs heroes since we usually reserve that honor for people like doctors, nurses, fire fighters, soldiers, teachers, etc. But it is not just me (see references) or Elliot McGucken (organizer of the HERO'S JOURNEY ENTREPRENEURSHIP FESTIVAL). Others have said so, people who know what they are talking about. I will briefly describe how I got into this research, summarize what I found and then describe the views of some other scholars.

The stimulus for my research came when reading a discussion of how entrepreneurs discover opportunities for economic profit by economist Israel Kirzner. This was part of the required reading for a seminar I attended in 1989 put on by the classically liberal “Institute for Humane Studies.” Economic profit implies making an above average rate of return in your business. Since everyone wants to do so, finding the new business or technology that allows this is not easy. But Kirzner said that discovering these opportunities came from something like “leading a life of purposeful action.” That is not the kind of thing I heard in my Ph. D. training in economics, but it did remind me of what the mythologist Joseph Campbell, and author of The Hero With a Thousand Faces, advised people to do: follow your bliss or do what really excites you, what makes you feel like you are achieving some kind of personal destiny. What could be more purposeful than that?

In 1991 I began working on this seriously. In addition to the bliss connection mentioned above, I think I found two other important parallels. The first involves what Campbell calls the “monomyth”:
“The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage: separation-initiation-return, which might be named the nuclear unit of the monomyth. A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder; fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won; the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man."
How is the hero's adventure similar to the entrepreneur's adventure? The hero's journey begins with a call to adventure. He or she is awakened by some herald which touches his or her unconscious world and creative destiny. The entrepreneur, too, is "called" to the adventure. By chance, he or is discovers a previously unknown product or way to make a profit. The lucky discovery cannot be planned and is itself the herald of the adventure. The entrepreneur must step out of the ordinary way of producing and into his or her imagination about the way things could be to discover the previously undreamt of technique or product. The "fabulous forces" might be applying the assembly line technique or interchangeable parts to producing automobiles or building microcomputers in a garage. The mysterious adventure is the time spent tinkering in research and development. But once those techniques are discovered or developed, the entrepreneur now has the power to bestow this boon on the rest of humankind. So a second parallel is that both the hero and the entrepreneur go through the separation-initiation-return.

The third important similarity I found is where Campbell refers to the constant change in the universe as "The Cosmogonic Cycle" which "unrolls the great vision of the creation and destruction of the world which is vouchsafed as revelation to the successful hero." This is similar to Joseph Schumpeter's theory of entrepreneurship called “creative destruction.” A successful entrepreneur simultaneously destroys and creates a new world, or at least a new way of life. Henry Ford, for example, destroyed the horse and buggy age while creating the age of the automobile.

My article “The Calling of the Entrepreneur” was published in the November/December 1992 issue of a business bulletin called The New Leaders. A longer version was presented at the annual meetings of the Western Economic Association, July 1992. I also went on to publish three other articles in academic journals relating economics to mythology (see references).

So who else believes this? Let’s start with Candace Allen and Dwight Lee. Allen has won national, state and local recognition as a teacher in Pueblo, Colorado. Her numerous awards include the 1993 National Milken Award for innovative approaches to education and total quality management in the classroom, and second place in the 1995 Foundation for Teaching Economics National Prize for Excellence in Economics Education competition. Lee is the Ramsey Chair of Private Enterprise at the University of Georgia. He has written numerous scholarly articles and books. Their 1996 Journal of Private Enterprise article called “The Entrepreneur as Hero” won the best paper award

Perhaps the main point of their article was: “Just as the society that doesn't venerate winners of races will produce fewer champion runners than the society that does, the society that does not honor entrepreneurial accomplishment will find fewer people of ability engaged in wealth creation than the society that does.” So it is dangerous and costly to say that entrepreneurs are not heroes. Ms. Allen was also invited to give a speech on this at the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas. In that speech, she used Joseph Campbell to make the comparison (something she and Lee did not do in the Journal of Private Enterprise article). Her speech was published in Economic Insights (from the Dallas FED). It was then reprinted in both the Independent Review and The Freeman.

Next we move to Narayana N. R. Murthy, Chairman and CEO of Infosys Technologies. His commencement address to The Wharton graduating MBA class of 2001 was called “Reflections of an entrepreneur.” He closed his remarks with

“Some of you might remember an acclaimed series of interviews that the highly talented Bill Moyers had done on PBS with Joseph Campbell, the great American mythologist and folklorist, some years ago. Deep into a profound discussion about life, Bill Moyers leans over and asks Joseph Campbell, “Joe, I am sure you have thought about this question. Why are we here on this earth? What is the path for one to follow?” Joseph Campbell smiled gently and said, “Yes, I have thought about it and the only answer I have found is this. Follow your bliss. All else will follow.” So, my young friends, I urge you: Choose a worthy dream for yourself. Go after it confidently. Create a life that your great alma mater will be proud of in the years to come. But always, without fail, ensure that you are following your bliss.”
Now James Kouzes, author of The Leadership Challenge: How to Get Extraordinary Things Done in Organizations. He has served as director of the Executive Development Center of the University of Santa Clara. He's also an executive fellow, Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University. Here is what he told Jeffrey Mishlove on the “Thinking Allowed” TV program:
“It struck me when Campbell was describing the universal myth, the vision quest. It begins with some sense of dissatisfaction, some sense that there's an opportunity out there -- I'm not quite certain what it is, but I feel some internal struggle about that. And then it leads one to set off on some kind of journey to find that. And typically they meet some mentor, or some experience happens where they learn some new lessons, and they become more and more aware of their own inner strength. That typically is the story of the people that we interviewed, and that typically, I think, is the story of the new mythical hero in the world today -- at least one of the new ones, the entrepreneur, the business person who is dissatisfied with large corporations and wants to set off and start up a new venture outside of the mainstream. I think there's a perfect connection between what Campbell is saying about mythology and what we and others are discovering about leadership.”
Next up is Jerry Osteryoung, Executive Director of the Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship in the College of Business at Florida State University and the Director of the Entrepreneurship Program. Additionally, he is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship and Professor of Finance and has written eight books. . Over the last ten years, he has directly assisted over 3000 entrepreneurs. Additionally, he has written a weekly article on entrepreneurship for the Tallahassee Democrat. His May 6, 2005 blog entry was titled “Follow Your Bliss.” It opens with a quote from Campbell about following your bliss and Osteryoung later writes: “Clearly, if you have a passion, it so important to follow it. If you are an entrepreneur just to make money (I do not know any entrepreneurs who are in it just for the money), you are just not going to be successful. I think success is related more to the passion of the entrepreneur than to anything else. It is so hard to sustain yourself if you do not have a certain passion to keep you going.”

How about an economist? Walter Williams, actually. He is the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics George Mason University. A speech he made at Hillsdale College in March 2005 was called “The Entrepreneur As American Hero.” The most telling line in his speech was “For the most part, in a free society, people who are wealthy have become so through effectively serving their fellow man.” That is the only way to make a profit. Although he does not get into mythology or quote Joseph Campbell, he asserts that most of the material progress of the 20th century comes from entrepreneurs.

This is not just an American phenomenon. For an international perspective, we can turn to Johan Norberg, the author of several books on human rights, economic freedom and the history of liberalism. His book In Defense of Global Capitalism (Cato, 2003) received the goldmedal from the German Hayek Foundation and the Anthony Fisher Memorial Award from the Atlas Foundation. Norberg is a senior fellow at the Centre for the New Europe. He made a speech at the CATO Institute called “Entrepreneurs Are the Heroes of the World.” Here is part of what he said:
“There is a classic work by Joseph Campbell, a book on cultural history called The Hero with a Thousand Faces, about heroes in different cultures. Because Campbell traveled the world by reading books from other continents, he could see that there are heroes in all cultures, in all books, in all eras. We need heroes, because they say something about what our values are, what is good, what is great, what is bad, what we should strive for, and what we should try to avoid. He saw a common pattern. He thought that in most cultures and in most eras the same kinds of things are seen as heroic. Something big happens, and our hero is forced to go on a journey to fight hostile enemies against all odds with a lack of knowledge of what to do and when and how. But along the way he makes some friends who help him along and give him the knowledge and the inspiration to do what is right. Think about that heroic journey once again, and think of the persons I just talked about—people like you, thinkers, innovators, entrepreneurs. What makes it possible for us to buy equipment and goods from the other side of the world? Entrepreneurs face ancient traditions, political obstacles, taxes, and regulations, but they also have friends—people with access to capital, to knowledge, to other businesses. If they are lucky, entrepreneurs succeed. If not, they learn something new, make it even better the next time, and bring to the community something new that changes lives forever. That is the heroic epic. The entrepreneur is the hero of our world.”
Sticking with the international theme, in 2006 Campbell also came up at the Rueschlikon Conference on Information Policy. The title of the conference report was Innovative Entrepreneurship and Public Policy: Hero with a Thousand Faces. It opens with a quote from Campbell “Where you stumble, there your treasure lies.” One passage from the report reads:
“[One] way tacit knowledge is communicated is through narrative and myth: the timeless lessons of literature and art. (So too, when the Rueschlikon organizers wanted to document the discussions, they turned to a professional storyteller – a journalist – to write the report.) Indeed, the title of this year’s report and introductory aphorism tries to implicitly draw this connection by borrowing the title from a book by Joseph Campbell, a scholar of mythology.” (p. 52)
The author of this report was Kenneth Cukier, a technology correspondent for The Economist.1

Getting back a little closer to home, the January 21, 2007 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle quoted James Currier, the founder of the internet company Tickle2 saying "Starting a business is an adventure. It can build your character as you build the business in that Joseph Campbell 'The Hero With a Thousand Faces' kind of way."

Even a Nobel Prize winner in economics hints at the heroic nature of entrepreneurship. Writing in The Wall Street Journal in October of 2006, he said, using what he called an Aristotelian perspective on the "development of talents":
“In an economy in which entrepreneurs are forbidden to pursue their self-realization, they have the bottom scores in self-realization--no matter if they take paying jobs instead--and that counts whether or not they were born the "least advantaged." So even if their activities did come at the expense of the lowest-paid workers, Rawlsian justice in this extended sense requires that entrepreneurs be accorded enough opportunity to raise their self-realization score up to the level of the lowest-paid workers--and higher, of course, if workers are not damaged by support for entrepreneurship. In this case, too, then, the introduction of entrepreneurial dynamism serves to raise Rawls's bottom scores.” (the philosopher John Rawls, as you know, argued that justice meant maximizing the welfare of the least well off in society)
“It would be a non sequitur to give up on private entrepreneurs and financiers as the wellspring of dynamism merely because the fruits of their dynamism would likely be less than they could be in a less imperfect system. I conclude that capitalism is justified--normally by the expectable benefits to the lowest-paid workers but, failing that, by the injustice of depriving entrepreneurial types (as well as other creative people) of opportunities for their self-expression.”
It is not too big a stretch, I believe, to see the quest for self-realization and self-expression (the way Phelps presents it) as equivalent to following your bliss.

There is one more expert to here from. We will listen to an interview with this author where he and the host discuss creativity (the transcript of this in the appendix). The conversation was between Joseph Campbell Michael Toms, host of the New Dimensions Radio Program. Campbell called the entrepreneur the “real hero” in our society.

End Notes

1. Kenneth Neil Cukier covers technology and telecoms for The Economist in London. Earlier, his work focused on the international politics of technology, particularly intellectual property and Internet governance. Previously, he was the technology editor of The Asian Wall Street Journal in Hong Kong and a regular commentator on CNBC Asia; before that he was the European Editor of Red Herring. From 1992 to 1996 he worked at The International Herald Tribune in Paris. From 2002 to 2004 Mr. Cukier was a research fellow at the National Center for Digital Government at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, where he worked on a book about the Internet and international relations. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Prospect, The Financial Times and Foreign Affairs, among others. He has been a frequent commentator on business and technology matters for CBS, CNN, NPR and the BBC and others. Mr. Cukier is a term-member at the Council on Foreign Relations. Additionally, he serves on the board of advisors to the Daniel Pearl Foundation. (from http://www.cukier.com/knccv.html)

2. Tickle is the leading interpersonal media company, providing self-discovery, and social networking services to more than 14 million active members in its community worldwide. Formerly known as Emode.com, Tickle was founded on the belief that personal insight and connections to others could be both scientific and fun. Tickle was founded in 1999 as Emode.com by James Currier, who developed an early passion for Internet technology, new media and social sciences. Currier envisioned how the Internet could be used to help people learn more about themselves and better connect with others in a mutually beneficial environment based on trust and respect. Today, the company employs more than 50 people and is headquartered in San Francisco, CA. (from http://web.tickle.com/about/index.jsp)


Campbell, Joseph. 1968. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Campbell, Joseph. 1988. The Power of Myth. New York: Doubleday.

Cukier, Kenneth. 2006 Innovative Entrepreneurship and Public Policy: Hero with a Thousand Faces A Report of the 2006 Rueschlikon Conference on Information Policy. (www.cukier.com/writings/Rueschlikon2006-innovation-cukier.pdf)
Guynn, Jessica. 2007. “DOT-COM ON THE CHEAP,” The San Francisco Chronicle, page A-1, January 21, 2007 (http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/01/21/MNG0JNMFQE1.DTL)
Kirzner, Israel. M. 1979. Perception, Opportunity, and Profit. The University of Chicago Press.
Lee, Dwight R. and Candace Allen Smith. 1997. “The Entrepreneur on the Heroic Journey,” The Freeman, Vol. 47 No. 4 (April), at http://www.fee.org/publications/the-freeman/article.asp?aid=3594. (reprinted in The Independent Review at http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=318)
Mishlove, Jeffrey. “LEADERSHIP FROM WITHIN with JAMES KOUZES.” (http://www.intuition.org/txt/kouzes.htm)
Morong, Cyril. 1992. "The Calling of the Entrepreneur." The New Leaders: The Business Bulletin for Transformative Leadership, November/December.
Morong, Cyril. 1994. "Mythology, Joseph Campbell, and the Socioeconomic Conflict,” The Journal of Socio-Economics, Volume 23, No.4.
Morong, Cyril. 1996. "Economists, Parsifal, and the Search for the Holy Grail," Journal of Economic Issues, December.
Murthy, Narayana. 2001. “Reflections of an entrepreneur.” Commencement address given to Wharton graduating MBA class of 2001. (http://www.infosys.com/media/Wharton_Reflections_May01.pdf)
New Dimensions. San Francisco: 1991. The Call of The Hero. Audio Tape # 1901. New Dimensions Foundation.
Norberg, Johan. “Entrepreneurs Are the Heroes of the World,” Cato’s Letter: A Quarterly Message on Liberty, Winter 2007, Volume 5, Number 1.
Osteryoung, Jerry. 2005. “Follow Your Bliss,” May 6, 2005 blog entry (http://www.cob.fsu.edu/jmi/articles/Follow_Your_Bliss.cfm)
Phelps, Edmund S. 2006. “Dynamic Capitalism,” page A14, The Wall Street Journal, October 10, 2006
Schumpeter, Joseph. 1962. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. New York: Harper and Row.
Smith, Candace Allen. 1997. “The Entrepreneur as Hero.” Economic Insights, Volume 2, Number 1, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
Williams, Walter E. 2005. Imprimis (March issue) published by Hillsdale College.

Tape #1901: "Call of the Hero" with Joseph Campbell interviewed by Michael Toms New Dimensions Foundation audio tape from a live interview on San Francisco's radio station KQED

The following exchange was part of a discussion of the question of: What IS creativity?
Toms: In a sense it's the going for, the jumping over the edge and moving into the adventure that really catalyzes the creativity, isn't it?
Campbell: I would say so, you don't have creativity otherwise.

Toms: Otherwise there's no fire, you're just following somebody else's rules.

Campbell: Well, my wife is a dancer. She has had dance companies for many, many years. I don't know whether I should talk about this. But when the young people are really adventuring, it's amazing what guts they have and what meager lives they can be living, and yet the richness of the action in the studio. Then, you are going to have a concert season. They all have to join a union. And as soon as they join a union, their character changes. (emphasis added, but Campbell changed the tone of his voice) There are rules of how many hours a day you can rehearse. There are certain rules of how many weeks of rehearsal you can have. They bring this down like a sledgehammer on the whole thing. There are two mentalities. There's the mentality of security, of money. And there's the mentality of open risk.
Toms: In other societies we can look and see that there are those that honor elders. In our society it seems much like the elders are part of the main stream and there is a continual kind of wanting to turn away from what the elders have to say, the way it is, the way to do it. The union example is a typical one, where the authority, institution, namely the union comes in and says this is the way it's done. And then one has to fall into line or one has to find something else to do.
Campbell: That's right.

Toms: And it's like treating this dichotomy between elders and the sons and daughters of the elders. How do you see that in relationship to other cultures?

Campbell: This comes to the conflict of the art, the creative art and economic security. I don't think I have seen it in other cultures. The artist doesn't have to buck against quite the odds that he has to buck against today.
Toms: The artist is honored in other cultures.
Campbell: He is honored and quickly honored. But you might hit it off, something that really strikes the need and requirements of the day. Then you've given your gift early. But basically it is a real risk. I think that is so in any adventure, even in business, the man who has the idea of a new kind of gift (emphasis added) to society and he is willing to risk it (this is exactly what George Gilder says in chapter three, "The Returns of Giving" in his book Wealth and Poverty). Then the workers come in and claim they are the ones that did it. Then he (the entrepreneur) can't afford to perform his performance. It's a grotesque conflict, I think between the security and the creativity ideas. The entrepreneur is a creator; he's running a risk.
Toms: Maybe in American capitalistic society the entrepreneur is the creative hero in some sense.

Campbell: Oh, I think he is, I mean the real one. Most people go into economic activities not for risk but for security. You see what I mean. And the elder psychology tends to take over.

This discussion ended and after a short break a new topic was discussed.

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