Examining entrepreneurship through the lens of sociology

New blogger Danish, of Pakistan

New blogger Danish, of Pakistan

It’s not easy being son of a professor of business; while growing up out of desire to imitate my dad, my habit formed of reading Harvard Business Reviews instead of Agatha Christie or Sidney Sheldon. And then there was a certain charisma with student life; life was so linear and orderly; this allowed a certain luxurious way of thinking that was smashed to pieces when my job started in 2009 (I was 19 years old when my world fell apart). Over a period of time, I realized that it’s good to be motivated by motivation theories, but real life does not allow such reductionist perception to thrive. We all dream and dream a lot. Who doesn’t want to become the next self-made billionaire? But life has taught me that simple optimism is neither durable nor agile; rather, true motivation lies at the core depth of facing harsh realities and conquering subconscious unresolved conflict.

That is why now I want to bust the ‘bubble’ of the general consensus regarding “entrepreneurship”. Becoming an entrepreneur has become a buzzword by now. In every house of learning, we are taught how to strive to become an entrepreneur to achieve the ultimate pinnacle of success. Success stories like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Mark Zuckerberg and a lot of others cement our belief that if they can do it, so can we. Many of us want to have our own business and be our own boss. To become an entrepreneur is no longer an objective phenomenon, but a deeply emotional one for our generation. And it does make a lot of sense too.

We are witnessing unparalleled waves of societal changes in the global capitalist economy, right to our society and our daily routine. As Marx said, the capitalist needs to be re-inventing the society and technology in order to survive. This is never truer than it is for today. We recognize now that we are living in a ‘knowledge society’ where knowledge reigns supreme, but also a ‘risk society’ where misfortunes have increased manifold (2008 financial crisis being a leading example). It is better to have some products/business of our own, rather than being dependent on institutions for our growth and livelihood.

However, for most of us, we do not fully understand the nature of risks involved in entrepreneurship. There is an extreme bias to look at only the positive and inspirational side of entrepreneurship. This is where sociology has extremely realistic and humbling insights to offer to us before we take this plunge and discover that reality is very different from our pre-supposed conceptions.

Generally speaking, we are too results-oriented. That is the first and major flaw. We aim for ambitious results while giving little thought to the journey. If I don’t become a millionaire, than what is the use of taking this initiative? But entrepreneurship is more about the journey and the process than the result or destination. And why is that? This is because those who are really successful understand foremost that for every success, there is a plethora of failures that eventually lead to one instance of success. Failure is dreaded by almost everyone. We have to first be insightful enough to be able to separate the social reasons from the individual reasons for a given outcome. This is where sociology comes to our aid.

Any product/business is a function of its social arrangements. When we have a deep understanding of the psychology of the markets, then we can identify gaps more accurately and fill them to our advantage. And with regards to motivation, we have to understand that we have a lot of cognitive biases in our understanding of an outcome. For instance, we tend to massively blame ourselves for failures while actually we might have done a good job given the societal restrictions. Society is more important than we care to think about or give credit to. An entrepreneur is an innovator, and to be different is mostly a disadvantage. This is what John Stuart Mill meant when he observed “tyranny of the majority”, which is that there is general consensus over what is desirable and what is not by the society, and whoever turns away from that risks becoming viewed as deviant or problematic.

However, sociology is not all bleak too. It has very deep insights about the individual that an entrepreneur can avail as well. Marx made a historical and ground-breaking realization when he observed that humans have a need for creative outlet to produce the results of their labour. And this need is as strong as food, cloth and shelter. The interactionists rightly say that each individual makes his own reality through his/her interactions and hence we are the masters of our own destinies; even in face of all the social influences, it is ultimately up to us as to how we interpret them.

Now that we reach a basic understanding of both the positive and negative aspects of entrepreneurship, we can separate the wheat from the chaff; and understand more fully where our powers lie as an individual and where the society comes into play. I have learnt that pride and ego are the greatest sources of inefficiency and stagnation in our progress. Life is too short to remain stagnant or to be trapped by others’ agendas, but all that we do must be for the sake of what we love doing, and not to impress the society or become future kings of ego. That is why Confucius said:  “Do a job that you love doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life”.

Stay Blessed!!

Danish is studying for the BSc Sociology in Pakistan. The BSc Sociology is not available to new students, however you can still study for a Diploma for Graduates in Sociology.

More about our blogger

Syed Danish Ali is an actuarial analyst in a leading actuarial consultancy across Pakistan and the Middle East. Part of his job is to understand the mathematics behind insurance and convert them into useful financial numbers so that stakeholders appreciate the risks they undertake more adequately. Apart from giving professional actuarial papers, he is a final third year student of bachelors in sociology from University of London.

When asked to describe himself, Danish responded: “My world opened when I took 8 subjects in A levels. It was not that I had achieved 8 As, but rather the learning that came from this process. I realized that in order to become a philosopher, I have to treat all knowledge as one and the same. This is why I do believe in specialization, but not to the extent that I limit myself to silos or compartmentalization of knowledge where I am good in one area but I am not able to see the bigger picture involved. This is the reason behind the intellectual diversity I nourish in being able to do actuarial science along with social sciences. I also write poetry whenever I get the opportunity, especially on mysticism.”

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