THE EXISTENTIAL ENTREPRENEUR

Who among us toiling within higher education institutions to promote innovation and entrepreneurship hasn’t experienced a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of apparently meaningless and absurd situations?

Close your eyes. Relax your mind.

Who among us toiling within higher education institutions to promote innovation and entrepreneurship hasn’t experienced a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of apparently meaningless and absurd situations? Then allow me to suggest that the existential is a great frame for the challenges we all face and the solutions we offer.

Among the main concepts of existentialism is that existence precedes essence. Borrowing shamelessly from Kierkegaard – To the same degree as the higher education institution is concrete, to the same degree its form must also be concretely dialectical. But just as the higher education institution is not an entrepreneur, not a founder, not an equity investor, not an economic developer, so also is its form none of these directly. Its form must first and last be related to existence, and in this regard it must have at its disposal the entrepreneur, the founder, the equity investor and the economic developer.

Another main concept of existentialism is the absurd. Bad requests shouldn’t be made of good institutions. But we all know that bad requests get made of each of us constantly in the face of unfairness. Educate our children. Provide them the most modern of amenities. Launch and fund their startups. But, don’t sacrifice basic science. Don’t deviate from applied experience. Don’t raise tuition. Don’t count on state or federal funding. Shall we all succumb to Camus’ notion that the only truly philosophical problem is that of ending our own existence?

A third main concept is facticity. Can your institutions be in the mode of not-being as Sartre questions? Are you yesterday’s educators? Or are you tomorrow’s business launchers? Must you deny your past to project yourself into your future? Whose values are determining your actions and to what extent are you responsible?

Closely related is authenticity. Are you acting based on the image of your institution as a citadel of learning? Or maybe a responsible economic actor in the broader community? Are you an artisan crafting the workforce of tomorrow? Are you free to create yourself and then live in accordance with your freedom?

Obviously, if you were purely rational, you would have stopped reading by this point.

One of my hopes in writing this is to offer you an opportunity to look through Sartre’s keyhole. To become the Other without the fear of the Look. To encourage you to direct your entire consciousness to what goes on in the entrepreneur’s world and to experience the freedom to envision yourself as them in some future iteration of yourself or your institution.

Now maybe this isn’t what you expected when you decided to enter the Rumination Paradox. Maybe you are feeling some existential angst? Is there anything predetermining your direction? That of your institution? Are you ready, willing, able, determined to throw yourself off the cliff and into the abyss of a Center for Applied Entrepreneurship?

Lest my digression has gone further and thrown you into existential despair, let me end as I started…that is taking liberties with Kierkegaard – Lovingly to hope all things is the opposite of despairingly to hope nothing at all. Entrepreneurship hopes all things – yet is never put to shame. To relate oneself expectantly to the possibility of entrepreneurship is to hope. To relate oneself expectantly to the possibility of failure is to fear. By the decision to choose entrepreneurship, one decides infinitely more than it seems, because it is an eternal decision.

And with that, you may open your eyes…and let me know what you’ve chosen.

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