Institutional Thinking vs. Self Thinking

Today I was going back through some highlighted passages from The 4th Economy by Ron Davison. What follows isn’t particularly outstanding, but I highlighted it because it applies directly to our new project, Start-up August.

“Imagine [a school] perfectly adapted to you: your learning style, your goals … Imagine it gave you a mix of physical, social – emotional, spiritual, and intellectual experiences … Imagine inventing such a school and then discovering that there are others who would thrive in the same place.

You’ve just imagined what the 4th economy might mean for you.”

And that’s exactly what we are going to do. I suppose that’s what we’ve done since day one with our internships. There isn’t any institutional body that provides young entrepreneurs with entrepreneurial mentors, so we had to build one.

I didn’t always think it was possible to just “build stuff.” My brain wasn’t prepared to work that way.

Time, cash, and mobility via institutions.

When it came to careers and money– something I understood poorly– I thought in the context of institutions.

When I considered opportunities for travel, I thought of Korean Schools or the US Navy. When I thought about opportunities to make money, I thought about successful corporations, or clever stock-market investing schemes. When I thought of ways to spend my time well, I thought of becoming a university professor or a musician.

Then Tim Ferriss wrote a book that changed the context in which I thought about things.

Instead of looking for scripts offered by institutions, readers of the 4HWW were shown how they could use powerful tools (including institutions) to write their own scripts.

Sure, there have long been books that talked about entrepreneurial success, wealth, attraction, and all that– but Tim laid out a set of tools that appeared to be just as credible as the institutional beliefs I was relying on.

Instead of following career paths we wagered would lead to success, Tim suggested we learn and employ the tools of entrepreneurship.

And don’t let anybody belittle it by saying “there’s always been this stuff…”  Sure. But entrepreneurial opportunities aren’t unlike many of the trends this new century has presented us with– computer processing is more powerful today than ever before, the internet today is larger than ever before, there is more written information today than ever before, you’ve got Wikipedia in your pocket– we should recognize the trend with entrepreneurship as well.

Averaged over all humans, there’s never been a better day to start a business than today.

Ron touches on that ;)

*  *  *

The half-truths I operated under.

Before I read the 4 Hour Work Week, I remember having conversations with friends where I’d talk about all of my core desires in the context of my career. At the time, I was suffering from a conflict that didn’t seem to have many quality resolutions. On the one hand, I wanted to travel the world, be an expat, own my time, and have adventures. On the other hand, I wanted to be “successful.” I had ambition. I wanted money, power, and freedom. I found it difficult to reconcile these two attitudes. There weren’t many life game plans that seemed to offer solutions to both desires.

The plans I generated existed entirely in institutional context.

One story I often told myself and others was that I’d eventually reach a point in my career where I would have a great deal of personal freedom because I’d be a the top of some important medium sized companies. Not only would I travel a lot for work, but I’d probably have 6 weeks of vacation a year. Although it’s not a super long time, the big money I’d have in the bank would ensure I’d have a great time.

Regarding my ambition for long term international travel, I’d explore ideas like teaching English in Korea, Thailand, or similar. Maybe being a Scuba dive instructor, or saving a bunch of money and trying to make it last as long as possible, and so on.

All of those options, to me, seemed hopelessly unambitious and unsustainable.

So I stuck with the business.

Your qualifications are a tool. If you care too much about them, you’ll be one too.

And sure, for many of you, you’ve been living the location independent jet-set entrepreneur lifestyle for decades. But for me, a middle class worker bee, it took the book to show me that I didn’t need to think of my life in the context of institutions.

Your degree is just a tool. Same with your credit score. Same with your resume. Same with your “work experience.” They help define what’s possible for your work to the extent to which you let them.

And it’s not all roses. Telling a whole generation that they can have any life they want can create a lot of failures, wannabes, broken hearts, and silly online enterprises.

But what Tim and Ron have shown through their work isn’t that the context is infinite. They aren’t saying we can just follow our passions and have everything we want.

Instead, they’ve clarified that if you focus on the tools of entrepreneurship, rather than the rules of institutions, the possibilities of what your life could be are staggering.

Gawking at a new world with an old mindset.

And all that brings me to the legacy of institutional thinking in our nascent world of internet marketing. When we look to guys like Pat or Joe and Justin to give us tools to do our own thing, we are thinking like entrepreneurs. When we look to them as people who define the rules of the game, who hand us “systems,” we miss the point.

How you like them apples?

Good Will Hunting

The pettiest part of myself wants to go back and flaunt minor financial wins to everyone who doubted me when I quit my job.

The cash results aren’t meaningless– they represents something. Even though there isn’t a legible institution– like a job or a university– that has said “yeah Dan, you are doing great” our customers have said as much with their wallets.

But that will never be the whole story, and in this next century, where we have such an incredible opportunity to change lives and markets, money will ever become a more obtuse marker of success and credibility.

And chasing the money in entrepreneurship can often be just as silly as it was back when we were climbing the corporate ladder.

You could even think of cash as just another sort of institution. So put your degrees and bank accounts away. We can officially forget about getting any kind of knowing nods at the Thanksgiving table for a while. How you fund your lifestyle will likely be radically different from the generation before you.

Sharpening our entrepreneurial minds is (often) about being alone and asking ourselves if the work we are doing is meaningful to a small group of people . Our customers. Or readers. Or tweeters.



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