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When Entrepreneurship is the Answer. Part 1: looking back.

After a three part series on what entrepreneurship shouldn’t do, it’s time to get upbeat and think about the glorious possibilities of a new life, i.e. what entrepreneurship is the answer. Wee-haw! This is going to be fun: imagining a wonderful world brought to us by entrepreneurship1, starting with the past.

So many things could be listed under the heading of innovations through history. I won’t pretend to be comprehensive or have an objective approach. Below are categories of products/technologies that blow me away, with a bit of analysis of why.

  1. Things that are awesome because someone thought of them. A wonderful combination of imagination and observation and knowledge came together to see these invisible things existed and could be made into useful stuff: 
  • electricity – brilliance got us from unbalanced charges in atoms, to the flow of electrons down conducting metal wires, to being able to plug in a gigantic number of appliances, from beard trimmers to refrigerators, which do a wide variety of things, from vibrate a cutting edge to compress gas to cool beer. Awe inspired at the abstract thinking rendered infinitely useful.
  • batteries – It blows me away that batteries are now of sufficient strength to make a car go for hundreds of kilometers, power a chain saw, or stream video all day. Awe inspired that ongoing development keeps making it better and better. 10X factors on 10X factors of improvement here. I remember the day when a couple of C cells lit a flash light for a few hours, now we’re at powering saws to cut through 8×8″ lumber.
  • communication technology – there’s a whole bunch of entrepreneurial innovations in this but being able to type a message on a bit of plastic, glass and metal, hit ‘send’ and have it appear, almost instantaneously, on another bit of plastic, glass and metal (hopefully the one you wanted to sent it to) would be magic if books weren’t written about the technology and entrepreneurship that had gone into to modern day communication technology. The awe – it seems like magic, but isn’t.
  • things that have made me as healthy as I am – antibiotics (although I can’t remember the last time I took some, except for topical stuff I put on minor skin lacerations), vaccines (big believer and my history, or lack of history, of respiratory disease for the last 20 years, despite constant exposure to hundreds of people dripping with viral infections most months) and general knowledge about nutrition, exercise and lifestyle. In awe because the impact is potentially huge, individually and for society, provided we invest in it.

2. Physical products that do regular things incredibly well:

  • lycra – best fabric innovation in decades. Garments are more comfortable, flattering, fit better. Awe because – great clothes to wear.
  • clumping cat litter – really does work. Awe because it actually does what many before it have purported to manage, but failed at.
  • ATMs – the first iteration of banking when you want to, without having to stand in a line and be interrogated by a teller. Now being obsoleted by online banking (ambivalent about this, it works but I don’t see major benefits because regulations have made some parts of it clunky) and cashless society (also ambivalent, cash had its uses, it’s easier to share – for tips, nephews or homeless people, but harder to keep track of – once flying in the wind, it’s gone) Awe because – the ATM, a simple, physically thing delivered wide-ranging social change.

3. Things we may take for granted:

  • products to correct poor eye sight, i.e. glasses, contact lenses, surgeries etc. -Thinking about how much it would suck to not be able to see things clearly or at all makes me appreciate how fortunate I am to have my vision corrected, and a health plan that pays for eyeware. The entrepreneurship of Warby Parker, that provides folks in poor circumstances with glasses is something to celebrate, and imitate. Being able to see should be accessible, period. We need to stop and think about how fortunate we are to have access to enabling technologies.

4. Social innovations (although not perfect, definitely life-changing):

  • social media – there are a lot of pros and cons of communicating on hyper-regularly with a bunch of people you know and like to varying degrees, but overall, the ability to connect with people who are far away geographically, emotionally or ideologically is cool. Huge respect for the vision of the founders in the area, such as Mark Zuckerberg.
  • evolution of social media – going from a one size fits all, or one platform fits all messages, to specialized, recognized channels appropriate to the conversation (i.e. LinkedIn for professional interactions, Instagram for the visually oriented, Facebook for generic, or go-to group formation, Discord for select topic groups, etc) and I’m optimistic it’ll get better still. Awe because the industry is maturing.
  • Spotify, or accessible music, and accessible listeners for music because it looks like true democracy to me.

K. True to my word, I randomly spewed out things I’m glad have been invented, and innovated, and turned into products. Part 1 is about what has been. In part 2, I’ll hallucinate about the future and what I hope entrepreneurship brings us. 

1 Since this series started four posts ago, let me re-explain: When I refer to entrepreneurship, I mean to be inclusive of all people who start businesses, or other organizations, to bring their customers novel products or services. This can range from making a simple service available, like opening an accounting firm for people who haven’t had access to one before, to creating ground-breaking technology, for example allowing people, who have never been able to see, vision. My posts in this series focus on novel products and services because there lies the biggest questions about what is appropriate and right. We’ve pretty much got our heads around the rights and wrongs of accounting 🙂

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