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Leading Views: Entrepreneurs Are the Heroes of Creative Destruction

Entrepreneurs Are the Heroes of Creative Destruction

Leading ViewsCapitalism in America by Alan Greenspan and Adrian Wooldridge is an accessible history of America’s capitalist traditions and entrepreneurial culture.

In this chronological account beginning with the American Revolution, the genius of America’s innovative success is not only its tolerance of but also its penchant for creative destruction. Though sometimes painful, it is the driving force of economic progress.

The authors talk not only of the familiar product innovation but also America’s process innovation—innovation in management and organizing production.

Entrepreneurs drawn from every level of society are the primary drivers of this creative destruction. Associated with openness and opportunity, America produces and draws in more entrepreneurs than anywhere else.

Entrepreneurs are the heroes of creative destruction—the people with the ability to feel the future in their bones and bring it into being through sheer force of will and intellect. Entrepreneurs drive long-term growth in productivity by pursuing their dreams of building a business, launching a product, or, human nature being what it is, making a fortune. But they are seldom the easiest of heroes, or the nicest. They are almost always guilty of what might be termed imperialism of the soul: they will sacrifice anything, from their own peace of mind to the lives of those around them, to build a business empire and then protect that business empire from destruction. Great entrepreneurs are never at rest; they must keep building and innovating in order to survive. They are also prone to what Norwegians call Stormannsgalskap, or the “madness of great men.”

One of the reasons America has been so successful is that it possesses a genius for mass-producing these flawed heroes. Charles Goodyear was so obsessed with vulcanizing rubber that he condemned his family to a life of poverty and squalor, with three of his children dying in infancy. Isaac Singer was guilty of cheating his partner out of his business and choking one of his wives into unconsciousness as well as polygamy and child neglect. John Henry Patterson, the founder of National Cash Register Company, was a food faddist and exercise fanatic who bathed five times a day and once fasted for thirty-seven days. Henry Ford launched a succession of ambitious schemes for improving the world, including eliminating cow, which he couldn’t abide. In 1915, he took a ship of leading businesspeople and peace activists to Europe to try to end the First World War and “get those boys out of the trenches.” “Great War to End Christmas Day,” read a New York Times headline; “Ford to Stop It.” Thomas Watson turned IBM into a personality cult, complete with company songs about “our friend and guiding hand,” a man whose “courage none can stem.”

The ugly side of these entrepreneurs is often just as important to their success as their admirable side, just as the destruction is as important as the creation. You cannot reshape entire industries and build companies from nothing without overdoing things. These negative qualities often end up undermining the empire that they helped to create, particularly if they get worse with age. They very stubbornness that led Henry Ford to mass-produce cars before there were many roads for people to drive them on also led him to ignore the fact that American consumers craved variety. Henry Ford’s failures prepared the way for the rise of General Motors.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:54 AM
| Comments (0) | This post is about Entrepreneurship , Leading Views



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