The Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once said that “the reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
By this measure, some of today’s leading entrepreneurs are distinctly unreasonable and democratic and economic progress depends on them. Recognizing this, the Obama administration is holding a Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship on April 26-27 in Washington, DC, building on his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo last summer in which he promised “to identify how [America] can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.”
Indeed, it was recently noted in the United Arab Emirates’ The National paper that, despite the surplus of public sector jobs in the Emirates, entrepreneurs and the private sector are key to sustainable growth. The regional news source Al Bawaba also recently reported that “entrepreneurship enhances productivity for sustainable development” following the Abu Dhabi Forum on Entrepreneurship presented by Abu Dhabi University (ADU) and Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development. The region’s new entrepreneurial spirit is paving the way for the “unreasonable man” to flourish.
Entrepreneurs lead by example and attack intractable problems, take risks, and force society to look beyond the edge of what seems possible. Being “unreasonable” is a process by which older, outdated forms of reasoning are abandoned and new ones conceived and evolved. In so doing, entrepreneurs seek challenging but important goals, such as economic and environmental sustainability and social equity, often aiming to transform the systems whose dysfunctions help create or aggravate major socioeconomic, environment, or political problems.
In other words, entrepreneurs address the critical challenges that existing firms haven’t. Experience has shown that nations that support entrepreneurs have grown and prospered over the last several decades, while nations that have placed barriers to the growth of their small business enterprises (e.g. private property rights) have done poorly. These enterprises have been the backbone of democratic society among developed countries and are becoming a foundation for democracy in many developing countries.
Muhammad Yunus, founder of the revolutionary Grameen Bank that pioneered microfinancing and the winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, said a few years ago that his breed of social entrepreneurship was “70 percent crazy.” Indeed, it’s incredible how often entrepreneurs have been described as crazy by the media, friends, or even associates. But they are only crazy like the proverbial fox. They look for—and often find—solutions to insoluble problems in the unlikeliest places, taking the pressure off of government to fix every little thing. Entrepreneurs are driven by a passion to expand business thinking to reach people in need, helping map out future markets where most of us would only see problems, risks, or simply craziness.