Noah Smith wrote a post over the weekend where he expresses concerns over what he terms the Entrepreneur Subculture:
Well, in the past few years, I've been reading - and hearing - a lot about the Entrepreneurship Subculture. You all know what this is. It's mostly young people, mostly in urban areas (especially SF and NYC). It's mostly (but not exclusively) made up of entrepreneurs in the fields of technology and media. It includes media outlets like TechCrunch, books like The Lean Startup, "incubators" like YCombinator, forums like Quora, and other outlets like the TED and TEDx talks.
First, I'd like to address this above description Smith offers before I talk about his concerns.
Smith qualifies by using the word "mostly" three times, but this still to me looks like he's talking about the idea that the average entrepreneur is a twenty something, in Silicon Valley, and working on an internet startup.
Even if this is not what Smith intends to convey, this is a common perception. And it is simply not true. As we have covered here before on Growthology, entrepreneurs are not, on average, young, and we've talked about how they are not mostly located in San Francisco and New York City, and do not work only on tech and media (see our Inc. 500 research here). Concerning geography, here is the map of the Inc. 500 firms over time (an interactive version is available at the previous link):
And here is a relevant excerpt with statistics on the industry question (from this paper in the Inc. series):
At the nationwide level, only a quarter of Inc. firms are in conventional high-tech sectors, such as IT and Health and Drugs, and the industrial sector distribution is extremely wide, including Business Services (10.2 percent), Advertising and Marketing (8.6 percent), Government Services (7.3 percent), Construction (3.8 percent), and the rest. At the metropolitan level, we observed regional variations and specializations. Government Services in Washington, D.C., was the best example; other cases include Advertising and Marketing in New York City and Los Angeles, Business Services in Chicago and Atlanta, and Health and Drug firms in Dallas.
I note discussion in another part of Smith's post and in the comments about the relevance of venture capital--we've covered that here too, many times, and it bears repeating, most entrepreneurs never receive venture capital (or angel) investment.
Returning to Smith's main message--he asks if we have an entrepreneurship groupthink problem. Dane has wondered about this previously as well. Does the Entrepreneur Subculture insulate? If policy makers and the media focus on entrepreneurs, and if entrepreneurs are more and more in close collaboration with one another, will the same ideas end up being recirculated and groundbreaking innovations become even more rare? The potential for problems is definitely there.
I think Smith is right on the mark when he advises that entrepreneurs should take breaks from this Subculture experience. I have an illustrative story that squares directly with this idea. I attended the Inc. 500|5000 annual conference in Phoenix earlier this month. One of the presentations was from GoPro (the durable, hi-def, and compact camera) founder Nick Woodman, who came up with the two big innovations for GoPro while pursuing his passions. He came up with the idea for the first camera (not able to record video at first) when he thought about capturing his experiences on a surfing tour vacation--the first GoPro was a camera you strapped to your wrist. Later after the company had developed rudimentary video cameras, he was learning to drive a race car and realized that a camera that could be strapped to your wrist could just as easily be mounted to a roll bar. Take a break; discover big ideas while having fun.
Aside from vacations, there are ways to take quick breaks too. There's a popular concept in computer programming concerning rubber ducks. When troubleshooting code, put a rubber duck next to your keyboard and force yourself to explain the problem to the rubber duck. Talking it out to an uniformed thing is helpful. Entrepreneurs might find rubber ducks helpful too as a quick break. But more generally I'm thinking about real life rubber ducks. Rid yourself of the name dropping, the "do you know/have you heard of __ ?" question banks, and forget all the acronyms by talking and explaining things to non-entrepreneurs (I include myself in this camp), and frequently don't talk about entrepreneurship at all. Talk about e.g. the unfathomably good Homeland.
It will also be up to us--organizations like the Kauffman Foundation and others that support entrepreneurs--to speak up, present research-backed evidence, and provide feedback surrounding policies and practices concerning entrepreneurship. Maybe we should start handing out rubber ducks and be sure to use them in our own work.