Written by Teju Ravilochan Co-Founder and VP of Partnerships and Communication
Not that many plenary sessions include speakers who include their own DJ to illustrate their points through sound. But this one did, leading to spontaneous dance sessions of the 200 or so entrepreneurs and investors in the room.
The spirit of joy and dancing ran through the whole not, framed as speakers Bryan Welch and Leen Zevenbergen recalled Emma Goldman’s quotation, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.”
In the same way, Bryan and Leen illuminated simple truths about starting a business by challenging fundamental assumptions about it. Bryan Welch, who runs a media company dedicated to sustainable lifestyles called Ogden Publications, began by talking about what it meant to build a business. He explained, “The process of building a business is inspiring others to see a piece of the world the way you see it.” He explained that rallying the participation of others then was the chief job of an entrepreneur. “The one thing that inspires others to that participation,” he expanded, “is beauty. Yet we don’t talk about it when we build businesses. The other part of inspiring that vision is abundance.” In other words, people are drawn to a world they can marvel at and a world of plenty. “What we call abundance is referred to as capital in business. With insufficient capital, you can’t innovate, you can’t take risks.”
Bryan explained that the lack of money is one of the chief concerns of all entrepreneurs or even those who think about becoming entrepreneurs. “But we invented money!” he bellowed. “So, there’s always enough money! There may not be enough belief, enough beauty, but there’s always enough money.” The pursuit of money through work, in essence the “service of money” is not how the world ought to be. Instead, money, our creation, should serve us. “Entrepreneurship is the process that makes this possible,” explained Bryan.
Leen took his turn to explain that in entrepreneurship, it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission. Most people with jobs and bosses explain that if they lived according to this maxim, they’d get fired, to which Leen retorts, “Good! If you’re fired, you finally get rid of your boss!”
The courage and inspiration it takes to leave beyond a job where you’re not producing the value that you can and to strike out to create something on your own is not easy. And Leen attributes that heavily to the how little our education teaches us about creativity and about inspiration. He explained there’s no “sparkling” in an MBA program, no sense of inspiration. This was painfully clear when he once gave a speech at a hospital where 20 of the attendants had Down Syndrome. He asked the audience, “What inspires you?” and every single attendant with Down Syndrome stood up immediately and said exactly what came to mind. The rest of the attendants, consisting of hospital administrators and leaders, had to think deeply about the question.
Fundamentally, without understanding what inspires you, you cannot effectively create a vision of beauty and abundance for other people. Without such a vision, you cannot engage the participation of others to build a business. Through simple stories, Leen and Bryan drove home a crucial point: building a business isn’t all business. Business is offering others an opportunity to step into their humanity and in so doing feel compelled to participate in the creation of something greater than themselves, and that is most assuredly the ticket to a sustainable future.