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The Call of the Entrepreneur

Even after watching The Call of the Entrepreneur, I'm not quite sure what its goals were. I think the film was trying to show that capitalism isn't all that bad and that entrepreneurs are integral parts of a functioning and free society. Unfortunately, it failed on both accounts.

I was looking forward to the Nashville premier of this documentary by the Acton Institute. I didn't know anything about the Institute before I went, and had only seen the trailer online. I was captivated enough by those few minutes that I made time in my schedule to take in the showing at Belmont University. After all, as an entrepreneur, I am motivated to change the world, create value, and leave my community different than when I found it.

On the surface, anyone can quickly see that this film is less documentary and more propaganda. It's easy for any film to move from one side of the line to the other when you only let white men speak on camera. That also happens when you vilify Tony Campolo and assume that if you're not for a rules-free business climate than you're either a communist of friends with Hitler. I like to think there is a middle ground.

The white men in the film kept using words and phrases like "value creation," "other mindedness," "visionary," "risk and reward," and "opportunity." Indeed, these are wonderful attributes of a capitalist economy and are often found in most entrepreneurs. But instead of celebrating these ideas en masse, the film merely gave lip service while missing a wonderful opportunity to extol the virtues of free market economies without casting them against a backdrop of the worst violent alternatives we can all think of.

Because the Acton Institute is a deeply religious organization, the film tries to merge religious values and capitalist values. They spin Adam Smith as they wish, they paint religious leaders with differing opinions as unintelligent idiots, and they completely miss the boat on using the best analogy available: creation.

If you want to put a religious spin on commerce (and if you do, you're playing the exact same game as those who spin it in the other way), your best bet is to draw the parallels between the creation stories in the first two chapters in Genesis. Tragically, the film only allots the final five minutes of footage for this purpose, while spending nearly an hour blathering on about investment banking and leveraging risk.

Entrepreneurs create. In fact, entrepreneurs must create, or, as I've suggested, their industries or businesses will die. Innovation is key to any business that wants to keep moving forward, making profits and succeeding. Similarly, God created as well. According to the writer(s) of Genesis, God made things out of nothing, and even wanted to start over a and approached Noah about this.

Creation is also a great metaphor because individuals today understand it better than previous generations. Teens and twenty-somethings are now coming of age in a world where creation is common place. They create online content like blogs and videos like never before. Opportunities are rife for people today to modify and create anew innovations in nearly any field, with lower barriers to entry than ever before.

But creation is not the key in and of itself.

Because what God created was good. And sometimes, what entrepreneurs create is bad.

I don't think critics of Darwin-style big business are opposed to innovation or new ideas. I think they want to make sure that what is created in capitalist structures is good. Therefore, they cry out against businesses and practices that take away the dignity of the individual. Very few people would criticize the capitalist structure of the Grameen Bank. But they would be quick to point out the flaws of predatory lending. Thus the need not just to create, but to create that which is good.

While I agree that capitalist systems often allow innovators and entrepreneurs to consider the other person when they bring their ideas to market, entrepreneurs and their advocates everywhere must ask three questions:

Is what I'm creating good for the bottom line of profit and return to shareholders?
If the answer to this question is no, you won't be around long to do much else.

Is what I'm creating good for the individuals I employ?
If not, you'll be wasting a right answer to the previous question on trying to find people to work with you.

Is what I'm creating good for the community and society?
If not, then you haven't inherently created something that is good. While you may have customers and employees, your impact to world is minimal.

The farmer, banker and media mogul profiled in the film can answer all three questions in the affirmative. But, the film as a whole makes you think that each and every entrepreneur who has ever lived can as well. And that's simply not true.

So few people live a life of extremes; thus most people demand balance. The Call of the Entrepreneur is not a balanced film, and makes the viewer believe that it's the laissiez-faire way or the highway.

But we entrepreneurs know that the middle ground is a wide pool of opportunity. The marketplace is made up of people who want solutions and ideas, not polarizing options.

OtherSam DavidsonComment