My new year’s resolution is to be more unreasonable, so I’ve been spending time over at the Unreasonable Institute to see how it’s done. (Based in Boulder, CO, the Unreasonable Institute finds young people with compelling social venture start-up ideas, attracts investors who will sponsor those teams to attend a ten-week intensive incubator, and offers a marketplace for the resulting ventures.)
Teju Ravilochan, one of the group’s principals, has a recent post that’s a good counterweight to all those facile “Do YOU have what It Takes To Be an Entrepreneur?” lists. We’ve all heard a thousand times that it takes chutzpah and cojones to found a start-up. No duh. But Teju points out that an equally important but often overlooked element of the “entrepreneurial mindset” is humility, because that’s the attribute that helps folks to learn from others, abandon sacred cows, and learn from failure.
In the US, we like to craft a creation myth that foregrounds the wild frontier and downplays the bankrolling barons. We like to talk about garage ventures, ignoring the million-dollar homes attached to those garages. Behind the myth, our stereotypical entrepreneur is almost always a young male, usually white or Asian, often Ivy League educated, and surrounded by a pretty plush safety net. By repeating these stories, we make it easier for successive generations of young men like this to believe that they can found start-ups, and we subtly discourage folks who don’t fit that mold from venturing out on their own.
But when we look a little deeper and a little further afield, we find that over time more businesses are successfully sustained by communities of humble women rather than by brash young men singly or in pairs. When we set men up with unreasonable expectations of being able to singlehandedly blaze the trail or break open the market, they are often battered by unexpected failures and are unable to rebound to close the distance between their out-sized self-image and the face of setback. On the other hand, at a global level we still allow—or force—women to work in stealth mode. Though fettered by lack of confidence and lack of access to resources, women are also freed to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and keep trying, because no one is there to laugh at our failures or crush us under the weight of their disappointment. Our legacy is resilience, our lot humility, and it just so happens that those attributes are just as important as chutzpah and cojones.