The Responsible Entrepreneur versus The Social Entrepreneur

The Fourth of July parade I just watched in my new hometown, abutting north Seattle, reminded me of something really important about America. We are entrepreneurial to our core. The rugged individual is in our DNA. The rebel, take-no-prisoners archetype is how we brag and demonstrate our mettle—men and women. We were brought up questioning authority. At least most of us were. So it’s not surprising that we take on even social issues in an entrepreneurial way—as social entrepreneurs. But this may not be the best way.

I have trouble with relegating social responsibility to its own business department or silo, and I have similar concerns with the notion of social entrepreneurship, not with the intention but rather with what the term implies and produces. I think the idea of The Responsible Entrepreneur is a better direction and needs to be brought more into the foreground. Otherwise we run the same risks of green washing that we did with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). One of those risks is that responsibility is not taken seriously enough even by those producing CSR reports, greening their supply chains and creating green offerings. The same can be true for those getting certified as Fair Trade and B-corps. They do what’s required but likely not much more. The path does not always produce the results it sets out to initially.

I’ll get to some other gaps in a moment, but first some definitions. A social entrepreneur identifies a social need or gap and figures out how to make a business out of it, making a living while making the problem go away. The Responsible Entrepreneur sees that any business can be carried out responsibly and that, in fact, responsibly is the way a good business runs. It makes life better by how it does business and in all of its endeavors works consciously in ways that foster a better natural and social world. Responsibility is committed to cleaning up all business, not simply to having social entrepreneurs solve problems created by other, less than responsible ways of doing business.

Entrepreneurs are unique, very different from people who are followers. You know the usual characteristics—risk takers, driven and passionate, an idea a minute. All these are familiar and accurate. But as I see it, there are several important things missing from the list. Lots of entrepreneurs succeed but more fail, and even those who succeed initially often fail along the way and may not make it past the five-year milepost.

For example, most of the characteristics named in the sample list are extrinsic. That is, they describe what the entrepreneur does out in the world, such as “take risks.” The list is missing the intrinsic ideas about what brings risk taking about, what it takes to build and nurture it—e.g. manage messages in your head that are holding you back, manage your fear.

Because there are so many more people with entrepreneurial characteristics than there are successful entrepreneurs, we know there must be more gaps in the list. Another key element is that entrepreneurs also need a system for thinking and working that functions from an entrepreneurial worldview, not according to the traditional way of structuring business. In June last year, I was interviewed and honored by an article in Inc. Magazine. The question they asked me was, What advice would you give to entrepreneurs on innovation and success? I answered, Don’t copy big companies when it comes to work practices and developing strategy and markets. Traditional approaches kill innovation and growth.

The list also does not include diligence in tracking and managing in order to take responsibility for the effects your actions and decisions have on the world. Ask yourself, Do my actions and decisions improve the working of democracy, build economies that work for all, foster the uniqueness of the cities and towns where we do business, care for the ecosystems that we count on? Am I improving the lives of people who dedicated most of their day and life to the business’s succeeding? Do I accomplish these things by how I do business, not as a
side effort through philanthropy and a certification within a particular arena?

Unless these three gaps are filled, an entrepreneur cannot grow a business to a ripe old age with returns that are fair and reasonable for all who contribute. The reciprocal return is responsible when it is in harmony with the contribution.

The Responsible Entrepreneur’s characteristics are different from the average entrepreneur’s, although they include some of the traditional ideas slightly modified. A responsible business system is different than a traditional system. And both the entrepreneur and the system are continually developing better ways of accounting for the effects of their actions with the aim of making the world work better by doing business.

Characteristics of The Responsible Entrepreneur—do they fit you?

  1. You find your own unique way to contribute and then work to get yourself in a position to do it—in terms of capability, preparedness and the right choices.
  2. You practice External Considering.  You experience relentless caring for persons and for natural and human systems and for their evolution.
  3. You develop and exercise self-accountability, avoiding blame and without becoming a victim. This is sometimes called exercising personal agency and internal locus of control.
  4. You work on making human systems work better, not just on your own self-actualization in the world.
  5. You have a dynamic, developmental view of life rather than a fixed performance view. You believe people and systems grow and change and can be improved and made better. As a result, you are a pattern generator rather than a pattern follower.
  6. You are always engaged in fresh and regenerated thinking. You pursue an understanding of reality and what is in front of you at the moment, rather than imagining what was or fearing what might be. You see restraints as a source of creativity.

My intention would be to have no need for social entrepreneurs. All businesses, including those starting from “other than” social needs, can foster change for the betterment of all systems by how they do conduct themselves. There should be no need to clean up their mess.

Join me July 19th at 1:00pm PT for a free teleseminar to explore and “try on” The Responsible Entrepreneur series and intensive boot camp, designed to grow your business responsibly to 2-5 times its current value and revenues while making it more meaningful and fun. We will look at the six characteristics of The Responsible Entrepreneur and how to deepen them in your own way of working, a CHANG(E) system for guiding growth and contribution, and the way to turn any venture at any stage and in any industry into a Responsible Entrepreneurial business. Click here to register and get details.

There are limited seats for the introductory teleseminar so register soon and please cancel if you have to change your plans. The seminar is best suited to entrepreneurs who have been in business for at least a couple of years and are ready to grow their business, deepen the responsible worldview across the business, and make it more fun and crazy to do the work.

Please share this link widely. And look for my next teleseminar, for coaches and consultants, coming on August 26th at 1:00pm PT.