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Author Malcolm Gladwell recently spoke at the Toronto Public Library’s Appel Salon, and he had some interesting insights about entrepreneurs in our culture.”We venerate entrepreneurs in our culture,” said Gladwell. “They are our new prophets. Literally, we worship them. If you read the literature about great entrepreneurs, it is iconography,” or “hagiography,” he continued.
Are they worthy of this extreme level of reverence? Gladwell doesn’t think so.
Eventually, entrepreneurs will be venerated for how they helped mankind, not their ability to make a ton of money. He used the contrast between legendary entrepreneurs Bill Gates and Steve Jobs as an example:
“Gates is the most ruthless capitalist, and then he wakes up one morning and he says, ‘enough.’ And he steps down, he takes his money, he takes it off the table.
“I firmly believe that 50 years from now, he will be remembered for his charitable work, no one will even remember what Microsoft is.
“And of the great entrepreneurs of this era people will have forgotten Steve Jobs. Who’s Steve Jobs again? There will be statues of Gates across the third world.”
So, why aren’t entrepreneurs like Jobs worthy of idolization? Gladwell points to one thing that all great entrepreneurs have in common.
“The greatest entrepreneurs are amoral. It’s not that they’re immoral, it’s that they’re amoral,” he explained, referencing a 2011 article he wrote for the New Yorker about L’Oreal’s dealings with Nazi Germany.
“They are completely single-minded and obsessively focused on the health of their enterprise,” said Gladwell. “That’s what makes them good at building businesses, but that’s what also makes them people who are not worthy of this level of hagiography.”
“So we need to be clear when we venerate entrepreneurs what we are venerating,” said Gladwell. “They are not moral leaders. If they were moral leaders they wouldn’t be great businessmen. So when a businessman is a great moral leader, it is because they have maintained their conscience separately from their operations.”
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