Part four of a series from our founder on exploring a new approach to economic development that places individuals, families, and entrepreneurs at the center.
If we’ve spent time together—or if you read my blog posts—you will know that I don’t spend a lot of time on small talk. I am drawn to people who think about big ideas. I prefer to find out what drives a person or a community, to understand why we do what we do, and where that journey will take us. I seek to develop our collective vision for a better world and believe in encouraging each other as we figure out how to get there.In this moment in history, as we experience massive shifts that shake the foundations of our economy and society, I feel compelled to draw attention to the community transformation occurring as the Next Economy becomes our future reality. We have the opportunity right now to reset the principles and structures shaping our future. But how could (or should) our Next Economy be different from the current economy? Before we answer that, we need to better understand the dramatic shift occurring right before our eyes.
For the first time in human history, every human voice can be heard.
People have always had strong opinions based on deeply held values. Yes, some of those opinions were more informed than others, just like today. The difference between then and now is that broadcasting your personal values to the wider world one hundred years ago was difficult and costly. Businesses filled the void with product focused marketing that shaped our values and desires. While Coca Cola could “Share Happiness,” the values and opinions of people consuming Coke products were less well known.
People are the new companies. We now have the ability to express our values to the world, with the inherent expectation that the world considers those values before interacting with us. More than ever before, we align ourselves with companies, organizations, and even personalities that reflect our values. We all have the deeply human desire for the rest of the world to recognize our unique identities, contributions, and potential. Now we have tools that can force that recognition. Businesses now are being forced to shift to people-centric marketing.
We have the opportunity right now to reset the principles and structures shaping our future.
This fundamental change means that the Next Economy must become more people-centric. This is our opportunity to recognize the individual worth and values of each human being. The Next Economy cannot revolve around broad, often poorly distributed measures of wealth (like per capita GDP or the Dow Jones Industrial Average). Instead, it must revolve around individual measurements of health (living wages, access to high-quality medical care and education, and the ability to achieve our potential). The global tension we see happening in 2020 is in part the frustration of knowing that we must arrive at this Next Economy as fast as we can.
But transforming our current economy into the Next Economy will require many coordinated acts of creation.
That transformation will not only require entrepreneurial thinking. It will require entrepreneurship itself.Most modern business leaders were trained to focus on a single bottom-line. Prioritizing profit and shareholder earnings was not an explicit act of selfishness designed to create and perpetuate wealth inequality. It was just what most entrepreneurs were taught to do. The benefits of large profits and/or a high stock price were supposed to cascade down through employees and communities, making what was good for the bottom-line and what was good for society one and the same.
There is little room in this short-term focused economic model to prioritize the well-being of their communities beyond minimal regulatory requirements. The result was an increasingly extractive and exploitative business environment that had a lasting negative impact on employees, customers, communities, and the environment.
These problems are becoming more apparent, and many of today’s entrepreneurs are equally motivated to focus on more than just wealth creation. Anyone who ever started a company will tell you that there are easier ways to buy a vacation home. The entrepreneurs CO.STARTERS supports are dedicated to building companies that expresses their personal values. Every day more entrepreneurs dedicate themselves to building the Next Economy described.
That transformation will not only require entrepreneurial thinking. It will require entrepreneurship itself.
Today’s visionary entrepreneurs want to build companies with holistic perspectives that help people realize their potential. They are building companies that recognize the contributions of the individual human beings who are the true engines of all successful companies and communities. They are working to build models that are fundamentally life-giving rather than exploitative.
This desire to transform lives and communities is a consistent theme our CO.STARTERS team hears from entrepreneurs across the nation. The desire to be an agent of community transformation motivates many of today’s entrepreneurs to cast aside the security of a normal life in a normal job and instead engage in an act of creation.
The desire to create companies that will make the Next Economy the “new normal” is there. The potential for the living-wage (or better) jobs economic developers are always looking to attract does not and cannot depend on long-shot relocation campaigns funded by expensive public incentives that divert resources from other community priorities. Instead, Next Economy job creation rests in the hearts and ambitions of local business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs who are invested in their community and building this future today, without waiting for permission or an incentive package to move forward. (Though a little local support could really help!)
The desire to be an agent of community transformation motivates many of today’s entrepreneurs to cast aside the security of a normal life in a normal job and instead engage in an act of creation.
The future of our society rests on how we respond to the desperate cries of so many people longing for their voices to be heard, to be known, and to have significance. Our old economy ignored these cries. Right now we have the opportunity to do things differently. Will we support and strengthen today’s entrepreneurs as they work to transform their communities, creating companies that recognize individual voices and values?
Let’s do everything we can to help those entrepreneurs succeed, and together we’ll build our Next Economy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Enoch Elwell is the co-founder and chairman of CO.STARTERS, as well as the co-founder of The Company Lab and a serial entrepreneur. He lives with his wife and children in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Follow him on LinkedIn, Medium, and Twitter for more thought leadership on economic development and entrepreneurship.
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