By Alexandra de Cramer*
From publishing magazines to ecommerce businesses, the digital market has paved the way for more and more young entrepreneurs to flourish. What is the motivation fuelling the Generation Y crowd to quit their cushy jobs and move to the swampy backwaters of the start-up life? Is the era of conglomerates and corporations over? I argue that it is.
Once upon a time, there was a kingdom with many, many workers, each of whom were responsible for the maintenance of a single stone in the wall of the grand palace. Each day the workers would perform the same duty, only to repeat it the day after. The cycle went on and on until one day, it gave birth to a different kind breed, and nothing would be the same again.
This story in its essence represents the arguments marketing guru Seth Godin discusses in his book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? He asserts that the era of the industrial market fueled by cheap and fast labour with do-as-you-are-told workers is over. There is a revolution occurring that cannot be seen but that makes its presence felt. One that is replacing the “sell, sell, sell” mentality and is making way for occupations that offer more than a job – rather a lifestyle, and a contribution to the positive enhancement of community life.
As Godin remarks, the initial push that motivates entrepreneurs to take a leap of faith to launch their own projects is the urge to do something meaningful. Millennials, known to many as Generation Y, have often been associated with the terms; “not driven”, “lazy” and “entitled”. What are the stressors that cause this attitude default? Let us entertain the notion that instead of being spoiled and faulty adults, Generation Y members simply believe that the system they are born into is out-dated. Perhaps they believe that a job is entitled to have more virtue than the instant gratification of a month-by-month salary? Something that cannot be quantified, a virtue within itself.
One might argue that pursuing a virtue instead of a livelihood is a luxury, which would not be possible for many individuals in less fortunate situations. Due to the characteristics of the information age we live in, I would have to agree to disagree on that statement. Of course, not everyone is destined, nor would necessarily desire, to become entrepreneurs and forge their own path. However, when one compares this current time to the previous decades, the potential of accessing the means to create your own business is much enhanced.
Enter, the Internet.
Since the end of 2011, 2.3 out of 7 billion inhabitants on this planet are regular users of the Internet, with an estimated 1 billion of them actively using social media tools such as Facebook. Another 2 billion are expected to possess their own smartphone by the end of 2014. In a nutshell, this exemplifies the connectedness of our times, with the Internet providing a market reach that has never before existed in the timeline of human history. I have to concur with Godin on the fact that we are experiencing a computer-dominated, digital revolution that leaves behind the industrial age. The Internet has created a platform that yields empowerment to any individual.
However, this new world is not free from its perils. More connectivity means more uncertainty. The zeitgeist of the world has changed dramatically— now incredibly fast paced, ever-changing, with unparalleled competition and series of unpredictable events lurching around its every corner. Inescapably, technology fuels this even more.
Man is often forgetful of the fact that he lives in an ecosystem built by him, which is therefore prone to chaos and fragile by nature. Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder, analyses this truth and concludes that to survive, one must form the necessity of becoming “antifragile”. In this context, Taleb praises the entrepreneur, who is fuelled by uncertainty, and criticizes the phenomenon “too big to fail”. He claims that anything “too big” is “too fragile”, and therefore bound to fail at some point. Individuals working for big companies are likely to be fragile since they are shielded by the day-to-day realities, whereas the small business entrepreneur builds his venture on his growing capacity to adapt. “The progress of modern society”, Taleb explains, is due to the “ruined risk-takers”, who like “soldiers have dedicated themselves to this cause”.
By definition, an entrepreneur is “antifragile”. An individual, who takes personal responsibility, challenges the status quo and by doing so, endeavours to change people. He or she does not shy away from taking risks or going against the current. Bringing a vision alive and to a functional state necessitates a high regard of oneself, something Objectivism theorist Ayn Rand would be proud of. Many scholars have translated Ayn Rand’s teachings of selfishness wrongly and have labelled her as the greatest salesman of capitalism.
High Self Esteem
Rand’s emphasis on individualism might parallel the virtues glorified by capitalism, but her definition of work ethics does not comply with that outlook. Analyzed within the context of working life, capitalism pioneers individualism requiring the individual to be the best in a certain craft by specializing in one act. Rand, who fully supports the power of selfishness, believes that for an individual to be the best at his job, he needs to take part in every process. The capitalist system requires the woodcutter only to cut wood. By cutting the most wood in the most proficient way he will become the best at what he does. However, Rand instigates that in order for the woodcutter to be the best in the country, not only does he need to cut the wood precisely, but he needs to know how to nurture a tree and make a blade. This act within itself yields the individual the ultimate power of selfishness - belief in yourself.
In her novel, The Fountainhead, Rand personifies her work ethics in the protagonist Howard Roak. As an architect, Roak does not believe in being cooped up in a room drawing endless sketches. Instead he chooses to expand beyond the handcraft of his work involving himself in each process of the construction of a building from blending cement to installing electricity sockets. Becoming an entrepreneur parallels this work ethic. One cannot simply be stuck doing a singular job tending to a set of subscribed daily tasks. Not only must one be involved in every step of the way, but one must have the endless high perception of oneself to succeed.
The young entrepreneurs of our time are individuals, who seek beyond the study-work-retire cycle to become successful. Inevitably, there are as many recipes for success as there are definitions of it. In Outliers New Yorker staff writer Malcolm Gladwell explains success in terms of his “10,000 Hour-Rule”. Put plainly, Gladwell’s theory suggests that if you do something over and over again, for more than 10,000 hours to be specific, then you are bound to get good at it. The Beatles did it, so did Bill Gates. I am not ignoring the evidence here, but I believe that it is not limited to it. In order for any individual to engage in the same act over and over again, he or she needs to love their work and the special ingredient for that is passion. So regardless of any hardship and failure, you fill find the will in yourself to move on. It is what gave Steve Jobs his unbreakable and unbendable will to power.
The story of the making of Intern magazine and the personal journey of its creator and editor-in-chief Alec Dudson, represent the perfect blend between the circumstances of the age we live in and the characteristics it imposed on young entrepreneurs. For a year Alec Dudson worked as an unpaid intern at a range of magazines in London’s publishing industry, only to find out that none of them were hiring him. Bothered by the culture that supported the longevity of unpaid young creatives, but humbled by the experience and in acknowledgement of it’s worth, Dudson set out to create his own magazine. Raising money through the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, Intern magazine’s first issue went on sale in October 2013. As a publication that aims to empower interns, not only did Dudson draw upon his own personal experience, but has also given a voice to a fragment of society that was unheard of. He matched his will power and vision with the internet’s abundance.
The future is built and described by young entrepreneurs. How have you contributed to society today?