If asked to name a few successful entrepreneurs, we would quickly rattle out names of the businessmen such as Apple’s Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jack Ma of Alibaba, or Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. But, have you ever considered Jesus (or for that matter; Buddha, Mohamad, or Guru Nanak) to be an entrepreneur? Of course, founders of religions pursued a much higher goal of spiritual liberation. But why should their effort not qualify to be an enterprise?
The MassChallange blog examines many definitions of the word entrepreneur. One definition I liked most was by an Austrian American political scientist and economist Joseph Schumpeter.
Schumpeter described entrepreneurs as the innovators with “wild spirits” who shatter the status quo !
Of course, Schumpeter used this word in the context of business. But there is no reason why we should take a rigid view and not apply the word entrepreneur to other spheres of life, including religion.
Here are a few reasons why I would consider these founding fathers of great religions as entrepreneurs:
- They were the proponent of “disruptive innovative ideas”: Founders of all great religions proposed a completely out-of-box perspective of the world, challenging the status quo! Buddha and Jesus, both rebelled against ritualistic religions. Guru Nanak – the great proponent of Sikhism – proposed a religion that fused seemingly diverse streams of Islam and Hinduism. And prophet Mohamad proposed the monotheistic Islam to unite warring Arab tribes that had diverse beliefs in multiple Gods. Each one of them was a disruptor!
- They built core teams around their own charismatic self: Although we often associate founding of a religion with just one great thought-leader, none of these founders acted alone. They gathered winning teams around them! Jesus had his 12 apostles, Mohamad had his wife Khadija, cousin Ali ibn Abi Talib, close friend Abu Bakr, and adopted son Zaid. Even though Buddha achieved his knowledge by meditating under the banyan tree alone, he built an organization called saṅgha:, the company of Buddhist monks, to spread his message. In Indian languages Saṅgha: is loosely translated as “the team”.
- They too had to cross the chasm from an early adoption to the mass following: Religion founders too, had to pass the difficult path of what Harvard’s Christensen calls “crossing the chasm“. Indeed, it is easy to find early adopters but what matters is scaling. In case of many of these religion founders, their enterprise had to trade turbulent waters (at times, violent prosecutions) before becoming dominant ideas with mass following.
- They (or their successors) did manage to garner support of some powerful sponsors to assist in their scaling efforts: Jesus and his early disciples suffered a lot of prosecution at the hands of the then prominent actors. But once they could prove to have gathered enough momentum, they could get the Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great, to give Christianity the much-needed stimulus. Emperor Ashoka played a similar role in his sponsorship of the Buddhism.
Don’t these traits sound familiar to the modern-day garage-to-valley entrepreneurs? Absolutely! So, during the Holidays, as we wish each other Merry Christmas and pray to the Almighty, let us also light a candle to the entrepreneurial spirit of the mankind that has helped us in our every endeavor … business being just one of them!