“My hope is that more people get to actualize their purpose of being human through acts of entrepreneurship, whether this is done outside or inside established organizations.”
Nadav Shir has been involved with SSES since 2013 and is the course developer and director for three of our courses: Entrepreneurship – Personal Development, Negotiations for Startups and Growth: Managing Your Firm, as well as the program director for EDGE. The main part of his research (recently highlighted by Forbes) investigates how individuals’ well-being is related to their entrepreneurial activities and under which conditions entrepreneurship facilitates personal growth, development, and well-being. We sat him down to hear his thoughts on entrepreneurship as a vehicle for personal and social change, whether everyone is suited for it and why he started the EDGE program.
Name: Nadav Shir
Title: Researcher, Program Director, Course Developer and Teacher
SSES Courses: The EDGE Program, Growth – Managing Your Firm, Entrepreneurship – Personal Development
SSES Workshop: Entrepreneurship and Self-regulation
Why did you choose to study entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship is a significant feature and a force of modern life which fascinates me. Today, most people chose the security of employment rather than the pro-active and self-organized pursuit of a vision. But more and more people recognize today an inner striving to authenticity which the average employment can’t bear to fulfill. We have to ask ourselves; how many people can work as creatives? Politicians? Scientists?
In the modern society, entrepreneurship serves as a unique and crucial force of engagement, of granting individuals the freedom to align their moral vision with an action in the material world of the market. Entrepreneurship offers, in other words, opportunities for contact with one’s vision of the good life. Entrepreneurship is thus also a political force. It influences and changes the world, for better and for worse. I want to understand how we can navigate the ship in the direction of good.
Do you think entrepreneurship is for everyone?
Well, I wish entrepreneurship would be a force dominated by good intentions. Sometimes this is the case and other times it’s not. Many different people are drawn to entrepreneurship for many different reasons. Entrepreneurship can provide the raw material for individuals to mature, create an identity and give birth to meaningful lives. While I believe more and more people come to realize this, political and organizational routines inherent in modernity makes it difficult for us to achieve this growth, and some of the constraints that are put on us are likely to block our entrepreneurial dispositions.
Organizations can, however, cultivate an entrepreneurial spirit by granting individuals more freedom to engage, to bring meaning into their work tasks. Here, I am not talking about the freedom from supervision and control but rather the freedom to engage, to act in accordance with one’s values and aspirations. People feel and act freely when their will to do good is alive, when they align their talents with their perception of the good life, of a life worth living. This also means, and I hope the jump is not too big here, that organizations can foster much greater entrepreneurial spirit by being more, not less, driven by explicit and genuine moral engagements.
Why do you think there are so few visionary leaders?
Well, I am not sure if there are more or less visionary leaders, but it does seem to me that we have become overall less engaged; believing less in our power to influence, trying to avoid suffering at all cost. To engage, in a political sense, is to speak about and embody your ideas – to try and influence people to move in the direction of your vision. But I think there is a certain modern progression of our sense of agency and self that leave many of us in a state of confusion and disorientation. We calculate our ways forward rather than dedicate ourselves to a certain vision of how we want to live. Today, many people feel that their vision of the good, of what makes life meaningful, is clouded. Yet, they realize in themselves a yearning to be in contact with those sources of significance. It’s my firm belief that if we were to become more aware of what actually gives us meaning and dignity, we would all be better off.
Do you think there is such a thing as an entrepreneurial mindset?
The word mindset is sometime taken to mean a certain attitude of mind and at other times a personality trait. I don’t think there are any distinct personality traits that only entrepreneurs share. Some people, however, seem to be more concerned than others with leaving a mark and affirming themselves in the world. So, it is natural, given the organization of modern society, that they will be drawn to entrepreneurship.
What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs?
In order to fully reap the benefits of entrepreneurship, you have to understand that it’s a long-term project that requires a lot of dedication and love. One advice I could give is this: train your attention! To both move away from the dark and the unworthy places, and to invest your energy and time where it really matters. The crucial move here is one of self-understanding, of revealing the picture upon which you write your life story, and to empower yourself and others to move from thought to action, from your envisioned self, to action in pursuit of that vision. Activities such as yoga, learning a new language, learning a craft, or reading philosophy, can all contribute to the quality of our attention and our capacity to exercise it, but a crucial development can also be achieved in the class room.
Tell us about the EDGE program
EDGE is an educational approach to personal engagement and development through the landscape of entrepreneurship. The purpose of the program is to encourage and help students understand themselves better and provide them with necessary tools to take action in the world in a manner that reflects their sources of meaning. I developed EDGE because traditional entrepreneurial education doesn’t address those challenges. Students learn, as they should, how to prototype, create strategic maps and financial accounts, but they don’t learn how to move from thought to action, how to motivate themselves and others, and how to align their vision of the good life with the actions they take in the world. I have seen over the past five years of teaching a great thirst for this kind of education. I want to help people realize their dreams and do something about them.
What do you hope is the future of entrepreneurship?
I hope that entrepreneurs in practice and theory moves toward a more humanistic future. A future in which individuals – both entrepreneurs and those affected by them – are seen as more than a set of means to the ends of business creation, but rather as ends in themselves. Today, most working people are not guided by their own vision in their day to day work. My hope is that more people get to actualize their purpose of being human through acts of entrepreneurship, whether this is done outside or inside established organizations.