Sunday, June 17, 2007

Beer and an unrelated note about social entrepreneurship

Ray, Chris, and I scored some free Sam Adams glasses yesterday when we went on their brewery tour. The beer (tiny glasses of Boston Lager and the Summer brew) was... well, I can't enthusiastically say it's my favorite thing to quaff in the world since I'm still at the point where I haven't gotten over the bitterness of the hops and astringency of the alcohol-taste, but it was tasty, and different (and much better) than I thought beer would taste. If you add the tiny glasses up, this was the first complete glass of beer I'd had.

I was able to tell that the two beers were different, but that's about it; I'd like to taste a few more so I can start noticing more subtle things, similar to how I now taste tea (I used to think they all tasted the same too). Apparently 1.5 beers is also enough to physically affect me; it felt like my perception had a tiny bit of inertia. When I turned my head, my head would turn, my vision would go right with it, and then a half-second later my brain would say "Oh, I'm looking that way now!" and everything would be all synced-up again.

My cousin Mark came over for brunch this morning. He had some cereal while I wolfed down half the leftover Fiesta Nachos from Sunset yesterday (three young people, one $10 plate... leftovers for two servings afterwards. It's a big plate.) He's staying across the Fen with the son of our uncle's classmate and a graphic designer roommate and working for an internet marketing firm. One thing I'm learning from the jobs that Mark and my brother Jason are working this summer is that the work world often takes shortcuts that, while entirely legal, make me feel a little sketchy about the values they're espousing. I still need to reconcile my entrepreneurial desire to take advantage of opportunities with my conscience which prevents me from doing anything that could be construed as "taking advantage" (in the negative sense of the phrase).

Dad said once that the key in business was to reconcile your head and your heart. One tenet of "social entrepreneurship" (although I want it to exist badly, I'm still questioning whether that's even a valid phrase) is "doing well by doing good." Is the idea of social entrepreneurship (to quote a grad school classmate) "bullshit"?* I can't convince myself that it isn't, so I'm going to try convincing myself that it is bullshit. I need to see where both perspectives are coming from.

So tell me - why is social E! total bull? (or why isn't it? I think the first type of response will be more helpful, though.)

*Matt and Ben, before you kill me, look up the phrase "proof by contradiction" - but note that I'm not aiming towards such; I'm really trying to prove that social E! is bull. I'm not going to hold back on this, because it's the only way we can test it.


nikki said...

Social entrepreneurship is the work of a social entrepreneur. A social entrepreneur is someone who recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organize, create, and manage a venture to make social change. Whereas business entrepreneurs typically measure performance in profit and return, social entrepreneurs assess their success in terms of the impact they have on society. While social entrepreneurs often work through nonprofits and citizen groups, many work in the private and governmental sectors.

It's an interesting idea, and given the right people it could be made to work. The problem is that the pivotal point of it is to game the system - to defy the standards of business and entrepreneurship, and to well despite it. It's the kind of thing I'm interested in just to see if I could pull it off, because it's so damn hard to succeed enough to make a difference without taking shortcuts, chasing loopholes, and generally blowing off your conscience.

So it's not complete bs, but that doesn't make it any more doable than being a completely ethical politician who still gets reelected.

David Klempner said...

I'll suggest a spin here; what's BS is that social entrepreneurship is actually all that different.

"What do you want to accomplish" is probably the right way to go about making a business in the first place. You start with an answer to "why should the company exist in the first place?" and concentrate on the business model.

Anonymous said...

I think that 'doing well by doing good' is bullshit, but it's not social entrepreneurship. Nikki's wikipedia entry sums it up perfectly- a social entrepreneur is aiming at an entirely different target than a profit-centered one. While most businesses optimize profit while staying within reasonable ethical bounds, social entrepreneurs optimize to their social goals while staying within reasonable financial bounds (at least sustainability). It's entirely possible to live a decent life as a social entrepreneur, or even get rich, but I think that some of the recent hype is an overraction against the perception that you have to sacrifice all of your financial security to do what you believe in.