After considering if entrepreneurship should do all the things it might to make life easier for people, and looking at some examples when great entrepreneurial ideas solved a problem but ultimately created more, I’m wondering if there is a third category of ‘things entrepreneurship shouldn’t do, even if it can’.
This question was inspired by emerging products that don’t seem beneficial.
This is different from making life too easy for people by relieving them of any physical exertion, needing to remembering anything, or being responsible for anything (that was part 1). It’s about providing something that, hard as I try to see other people’s perspectives, overall doesn’t seem valuable, even if people will pay for it.
And it’s different from the seminal vision some entrepreneurs possess, to see revolutionary new things. Countless people didn’t think we needed mobile phones until we had them, or robotic assembly lines or instantaneous geo-locating. I accept and expect innovations such as AI to change life in ways that visionaries anticipate, and others will creatively conjure in the next few years, even if I can’t imagine them now myself.
No, this third part of entrepreneurship that-perhaps-shouldn’t-be are products easily imagined but difficult to accept. Examples are:
- testosterone monitoring and mediation in healthy people1
- ice baths2 as a general approach to wellness
- intensive, frequent health monitoring 3
- human-like products for pets: investigative medical care, advent calendars, and outfits
- training programs for how to be an influencer, or services disguised as traditional gateways to commercializations of creative products that are just pay per service rather than recognition of talent, e.g. vanity publishing
- businesess based on bots buying all the tickets and then reselling them to people willing to pay more
- single serving food or beverage products which contain more than half a person’s daily calorie requirement4
- non-refundable GICs with interest is compounded more often than annually (this is purely performative, since the rates are modulated to works out to the same as annual compounding)
- services that allow instalment payments for purchases of discretionary items – e.g. rather than paying $60 for a pair of boots immediately, payment in four payments of $15
To me, all of these examples lack the entrepreneurial ‘wow, that’s a great idea for something people really need’. Instead I struggle with the concepts. These products satisfy human needs, or presume to. Why not offer them if there is demand?
A few explanations of why these approaches shouldn’t be approached:
- although based on scientific understanding, there’s no scientific evidence that modulating within normal ranges – that’s why they’re called ‘ranges’ – is beneficial (testosterone monitoring)
- nature has worked out what any species requires for an optimal life, going outside of that has risks, despite apparent benefits (ice baths, health monitoring)
- there is a line where doting on a pet becomes unhealthy, often if it involves avoidance of human contact or borders on obsession (pet products)
- the belief that there is no skill or magic in creative endeavours so ‘how to’ can be sold to anyone. Yes some parts are learnable, but build on natural talent. Famous musicians spend hours a day practicing their craft, and professional athletes train continuously (influencer lessons, vanity publishing)
- usurping the system because you can, and there are customers, isn’t ethical (ticket buying bots)
- working within laws is not a carte blanc to do any silly thing that will sell (knowing the calorie count of very rich food items doesn’t make it healthy to eat them)
- microfinance for consumerism or to provide instant gratification (reported increase in value of GIC when not realizable, purchasing power with no real purchasing power)
The common thread among most of these offerings is a play on human desire. Most of us want to live longer, be happier, find an easy way to wealth and celebrity, and make consumer choices with no consequences.
Why shouldn’t entrepreneurs offer such products?
The Emperors New Clothes – a children’s fairy tale. In this story, the King of the Land wants a new, stunning outfit. He’s sold an invisible suit, with the promise that it’s the most exclusive, devine apparel possible. Advisors claim the suit is awesome, because, like the King, they won’t admit their inability to see it. The King parades himself in the invisible suit before a large crowd. It takes the clarity of one youth, through their innocence, to say the truth. There is no outfit. The King is naked.
I think the Emporer’s New Clothes has two relevant messages.
1. Don’t listen to marketing, stoking your ego to get you to buy the latest thing that will enhance your persona. Use common sense to see what’s real and what’s not.
2. Don’t be taken in by public perception. See the truth even when everyone around you sees something else.
To entrepreneurs: People may want things that are miraculous, tremendous personal advantages. But, things that are too good to be true, generally aren’t. It will end badly. Ask the Emperor.
p.s. coming soon… Awesome things that entrepreneurship has and could bring
4here’s an article with some examples https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/unhealthiest-junk-foods#TOC_TITLE_HDR_14 check out the Blizzard