What is the difference between being productive and being enterprising?
Being productive is the ability to wring out the maximum output of a certain product, service or ideas, while passively accepting the constraints of inputs, tools and circumstances one is subjected to.
Being enterprising is the ability to correctly assess the situation and come up with a solution that may use a completely different method or resources. In essence, being enterprising is a nested ‘being productive’ but with an addition of creativity and ingenuity.
The attempt to increase productivity is limited by the square borders of the given factors, while adopting an enterprising attitude begins with thinking ‘outside the box’, where the region is unbounded and limitless.
Perhaps advancement of any kind requires more of the entrepreneurial spirit than it does of figuring out productivity issues. Unfortunately, the entrepreneurial spirit comes out in force only during tough times, for example, after a major war.
A recent survey by the OECD on 23 countries has shown a direct, positive correlation between the market turbulence rate, i.e. the rate of entry and exit of new businesses, and the overall level of productivity of a given economy. The goal should therefore be a dynamic society, which needs a strong entrepreneurial culture in order to exist, as well as an ecosystem of structured and efficient support to favor its growth. In our case, it means a return to that spirit that transformed post-WWII Italy from an agricultural nation into a global economic power.
Being enterprising comes along with the willingness to accept risk, as the approach would probably have been untried before, or have been tried by others but had failed many times. A society that cowers and ‘plays safe’ is unlikely to revive its entrepreneurial spirit and take chances.
Being enterprising also requires dedication and a strong will to succeed, not easily discouraged by initial failures. A society that is easily spooked by hardships and failed attempts would readily dismiss or be sceptical of the buds of new innovations and technology that are deemed too risky, or even perhaps, irrational. Therefore, it seems that a touch of irrationality in a sea of sombre, reality-facing members of society would be needed.
On the other hand, being enterprising needs rational planning and coordination. No project succeeds riding on the coattails of whims and the direction of where the wind blows. An enterprising society needs clear directions but possessing the ability to adjust the wheel quickly when faced with obstructions. A society that doesn’t even comprehend the situation for lack of information, knowledge or expertise, grapples in the dark. It will not come to an agreement as to which way to go, let alone coordinate and move in one direction. The age of enlightenment gets its name for a reason.
Planning means orchestrating one’s activities over time in such a way as to bring about good outcomes over the full period. When a person plans for a renovation of his/her home, he or she considers the reasons for considering the renovation; the results to be achieved; the enhancements that would contribute to those results; the resources that are necessary to fund those enhancements; the amount of time that will be required for each of the sub-tasks; and so forth. With a good plan and a good execution, it is likely that a good outcome will be achieved: an improved residence that was accomplished within the budgeted time and resources available.
A plan of life is something larger than a plan for a house renovation, though it has some aspects in common. John Rawls was the philosopher in recent times who brought this idea into serious attention. The concept plays a crucial role within his theory of justice in A Theory of Justice. (Perhaps Aristotle is the ancient philosopher who had the greatest interest in this idea.) Rawls introduces the idea in the context of his discussion of primary goods.
“The main idea is that a person’s good is determined by what is for him the most rational long-term plan of life given reasonably favorable circumstances. A man is happy when he is more or less successfully [sic] in the way of carrying out this plan. To put it briefly, the good is the satisfaction of rational desire. We are to suppose, then, that each individual has a rational plan of life drawn up subject to the conditions that confront him. This plan is designed to permit the harmonious satisfaction of his interests. It schedules activities so that various desires can be fulfilled without interferences. It is arrived at by rejecting other plans that are either less likely to succeed or do not provide for such an inclusive attainment of aims. Given the alternatives available, a rational plan is one which cannot be improved upon; there is no other plan which, taking everything into account, would be preferable.” (TJ 92-93)
Because the pay-off from projects may be far into the distant future, an entrepreneurial society requires a willingness for the present generation to pay the price, either by sacrificing its own welfare, or investing time in order to secure a better future for the next generation. Being enterprising may have other aims than a mere shift in the current situation, but rather, appreciating the importance of future gains. Hence, a focus on time consistent projects. Sadly though, it is very rare that a society internalises future gains that cannot be reaped by those that planted the seedlings but will not grow old enough to enjoy the fruits.
There are a few scenarios one can think of where the success of the society as a whole could be derived from: a. The self-sacrifice or inconvenience of each and every individual member of the society; or b. The self-sacrifice of the majority of the individuals, but no sacrifice from a minority group of the society. Here, rather than be stuck arguing over inequality, the idea of fairness must combat with the need for practical success because it is unlikely that sacrifice can be demanded from each individual. There will be free-riders, a fact of life for any society, which must be viewed as an unavoidable cost that cannot be escaped.
Solutions that an entrepreneurial society come up with should not be bounded by political borders or ideology. In fact, being careful that the advantage of your solutions cannot be enjoyed or utilised by others not involved in the process is an unnecessary limitation and restricts its potential. That is why companies are open-sourcing, why experts share their findings freely – so that it can be thought of together, field-tested by many more and improved on a scale that cannot be achieved if worked on by just a small set.
What about bureaucracy? That is a huge hindrance that prevents the flow of innovation. Permissionless innovation requires the removal of obstacles. A comparatively low-hanging fruit, as removing is far easier than creating. Occupational licensing, restrictive zoning and cumbersome regulations that protect insiders all can snuff out the entrepreneurial spirit. This is not just limited to governments, but also big companies which can be a good host to entrepreneurial ambitions. Removing obstacles should be a key priority for all political and business leaders.
Being entrepreneurial requires an invisible determination to see the ambition through. Just like a body at rest would require an outside force to overcome its inertia, so must the society find a driving force, the will of the people so to speak, to crave and aspire for better conditions and a more than satisfactory existence.
A society without hope may find itself struggling to get out of the ditch or rut it has found itself in. Without hope, society blames everything else but itself.