Poachers vs. Creators
In 2012, then-President Barack Obama dove into hot water during a campaign speech in Roanoke, VA when he said, "if you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.”
His extended quote was:
“If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen."
While he didn't deliver the lines as well as he could have, I get what he was trying to say.
I also fully understand why many entrepreneurs were pissed.
Here's the deal: If you have an "a-ha" idea today, it may have been the culmination of knowledge, other ideas, books you've read, teachers you've had, business owners you've met, etc. over the years.
One reviewer of my book wrote that the ideas in the book weren't "original" but they were delivered in a stylized way. I love that review. Why? Of course my ideas aren't original.
Many of my ideas come from lessons taught to me by my parents.
Some were taught to me by a series of business mentors over the years.
My sales mentor tells me about his influencers, whether it be Zig Ziglar or Robert Cialdini.
And, guess what? Zig Ziglar was influenced by the sales experts who came before him.
Think Steve Jobs wasn't influenced by people who came before him? Think again.
So, yes, I get what President Obama was trying to say.
The reason some entrepreneurs were upset is because their success wasn't simply built upon the ideas and influences that came before them. If that was the case, everyone would be a successful business creator.
Their success is also due to their risk.
Their success is also due to their organization of ideas and influences into the creation of value for customers who want it.
Entrepreneurs don't like being referred to as mere poachers.
True entrepreneurs are creators.
And, yes, even if their create something new and unique, they're influenced by those who came before them.
Every artist, every poet, every writer, every singer is influenced by those who came before them.
That doesn't take away from the fact that they are creators.
It calls to mind these excerpts from the Stoic philosopher Seneca's letter #33 to his friend, Lucilius:
"For this reason I hold that there is nothing of eminence in all such men as these, who never create anything themselves, but always lurk in the shadow of others, playing the role of interpreters, never daring to put once into practice what they have been so long in learning.
What then? Shall I not follow in the footsteps of my predecessors? I shall indeed use the old road, but if I find one that makes a shorter cut and is smoother to travel, I shall open the new road. Men who have made these discoveries before us are not our masters, but our guides. Truth lies open for all; it has not yet been monopolized. And there is plenty of it left even for posterity to discover. Farewell."
Entrepreneurs are creators who use the discoveries and influences of those who have come before them as guides.
They "use the old road" but open new roads that are shorter and smoother to travel.
Entrepreneurs aren't poachers. They're creators.