Entrepreneurs do more than just accumulate money. We're the kind of people who actually create wealth -- creating jobs and creating products and services that add value to society at large. And often we do that after a good deal of struggle. A lot of heartache. A lot of late nights wondering "Why am I even doing this?"
Little wonder, then, that society has transfigured the image of the entrepreneur into a hero of sorts. You see this heroic depiction in movies like The Social Network and Flash of Genius. So styling oneself as an "entrepreneur" has become quite trendy lately -- rather like adorning oneself with a hot fashion piece that's sure to draw compliments.
But because entrepreneurship is now under the intense spotlight of society's gaze, this puts a certain duty on entrepreneurs and business leaders in general. More than ever, today's entrepreneurs have a duty to exercise social consciousness. As arbiters of innovation, entrepreneurs -- true entrepreneurs, and not the star-struck wannabes who lack the true entrepreneurial spirit -- are in a prime position to shape the course of culture and society.
Even centuries-old political and social institutions can break apart under the withering fire of innovative and socially conscious entrepreneurship. Consider, for example, that the university system -- hundreds of years old -- has been dramatically affected by new ideas and inventions in online education. What was once the only route to deep knowledge of a subject -- learning under the college establishment -- has now become one of many possible paths an individual can take.
Why is it important that entrepreneurs and business leaders exercise social consciousness? It is precisely because entrepreneurs are creators. As art has always been a medium for socio-political statements (just think about the popularity of Banksy's art), so too can entrepreneurship make a statement that reverberates across the social landscape.
In this way, because we are inherently creators, we can use our social consciousness to alter, rearrange, and rotate society and culture in ways that are limited only by imagination.
That's why I have long believed that entrepreneurship carries with it an ethical imperative. For if entrepreneurs do not hold themselves to a standard of social consciousness, they run the risk of creating technologies or institutions that work to enslave, not empower, others.
And along this same train of thought, it's clear to me that the founders of any given company especially have an imperative to act with social consciousness. This is because a founder's vision and message is passed down through the company, generation after generation. That's why J.C. Penney still strives to stick to the "Golden Rule" ethos its founder adhered to.
And if the founder's vision is aligned with strong social consciousness, the company as a whole operates with that ethical state of mind.
We've seen the damage that results when entrepreneurship is not undergirded by a strong sense of social consciousness. The result is that companies use toxic chemicals in makeup products, harming both people and the environment.
How can entrepreneurs - those innovators and mavericks who harness the power of capital to do their bidding -- use their unique position to create more just, more humane societies? Here, one must consider all aspects of an entrepreneur's business. Everything from the branding to the company culture to the actions the company takes -- all of this has a societal impact.
As for me, I've chosen to go the route of creating a company that embodies my vision of social consciousness. That company is True Glue, which creates and sells an eyelash adhesive made purely from organic, non-toxic ingredients. And it's not tested on animals. By promoting these ethical products in the marketplace, they gradually take a hold on society and work to shift a culture's consciousness.
By embodying our notions of social consciousness through our innovations, we entrepreneurs thus create value well beyond our new products and service. And that's why entrepreneurs and business leaders can add tremendous value and benefits to society: we can re-draw the ethical borders of society through our creations.
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