Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Failure of Imagination...or Not

Opportunity.  God.  Overwhelm.  Beauty.  What do you see?
"Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled." -- Howard Stevenson

I recently discovered Howard Stevenson when talking with John Bates, one of his former students at the Harvard Business School.  John is an entrepreneur and fellow at the University of London Business School.  He's also a Unitarian I met when preaching at his congregation in London earlier this month who, like almost everyone I've talked to in the last few months, is intrigued by the possibilities and opportunities that integrating spirituality and business offers.

The Stevenson quote came from this article in Inc. magazine which explores what's different between entrepreneurs and people who work in corporations.  Although the article claims that some people have to read the quote out loud 50-100 times, I read it once and said out loud, "that's it!"  That is the difference between entrepreneurs, calltrepreneurs, from many of the people in the world.  We see opportunities first and then look for, maybe even create, the resources to make the vision, the opportunity to come true.

St. Francis sold and/or gave away all his resources before seeing the vision, the opportunity to serve God and his brothers and sisters differently.  He didn't think or say, "how much will the church give me to create an order of men and women devoted to poverty and service?"  Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, and so many others in business, religion, non-profits, didn't wait until they had all the resources they needed before creating their organization.  They started with ideas based on the opportunities they imagined and created.   In the religious world we sometimes say "money follows mission".  The same is true in just about every entrepreneurial organization I know.  People get excited about opportunities, possibilities and mission and it's our jobs to find/create the resources to make them come true.

I often preach and teach about abundance and what we need to do to become more aware of how present and possible it is in our lives.  I invite people to imagine a picture, like the one above, from the Hubble telescope and ask them "What do you see? Do you see a place of abundance, a place where anything is possible, where there are enough of the basic things that we need – food, love, shelter and competence for everyone? Or do you see a universe where goods are in short supply, a place where only a few can win, only a few can have what they really want and need?"

What do you see?  Ideas and opportunities that you are so passionate and clear about that you must make them a reality?  Or do you see obstacles such as not enough time, or people, or money to make them come true?

The Inc. article  claims that researchers at the Harvard Business School discovered that entrepreneurs  were much more likely to start out poor than rich. “They see an opportunity and don’t feel constrained from pursuing it because they lack resources,” says Stevenson. “They’re used to making do without resources.”

Making do without resources.  Pursuing opportunities without regard to resources.  The challenge of calltrepreneurship, of life, is to look at the world and see where the opportunities are for ourselves, our communities, our future.  It is easy to look at people who seem larger than life and say it came naturally to them.  But what of each of us?  Start with the most basic.  Our life.  We are born into different settings and places.  Some of us are surrounded with resources, some of us weren't so lucky.  
When I read the stories of successful peoples' lives I notice many, if not most, of them were not surrounded by obvious riches.  In fact sometimes they got in the way (i.e. St. Francis.)  

Would I have preferred to have been raised in a family wealthy enough so that I didn't have to get free lunches at school, start working at age nine or wait to my late thirties to get my college degree?  I'm not sure.  On some days I say yes but on most others  I can't imagine how different my life would be if I hadn't started shining shoes when I was nine, selling newspapers on the street corner when I was 11 or managing restaurants when I was 17.

How do we listen to the bad news of the world, with its true and/or perceived stories of dwindling resources, and find opportunity?  Hang out with people who dream on the stars and are opportunity/possibility people.  List all the reasons why there aren't enough resources to do something and then list all the reasons, passions and opportunities will make it so.  Look at pictures from the Hubble telescope and imagine, meditate, on what on what's possible instead of what's not.  Because looking at the pictures of the universe, the closest pictures I know of God, it's almost impossible to forget that the boundaries in what we can imagine and accomplish are infinite.  

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