Living in a risk-free world is not good for you

Being an entrepreneur
By Martin Dower.

By far the most common subject I’m quizzed about is the “risk vs return” of starting your own agency.

I started our little WordPress agency back in 1996, of course back then we didn’t have WordPress so we (sort of) invented our own. It was a fledgling time and folks still ask me why I took such a big risk on something that was untried.

The simplest answer I gave then, and still give today, revolves around boredom and the combination of modern-day slavery and post-industrial middle class expectation.

I left, in the mid 1990s, a job for US Big Corp that paid £SuperLots for the uncertainty of a new industry and an income entirely based on profit. In big corp I had fallen onto the post-industrial slavery treadmill without even being aware it.

I was well paid, well travelled and quite senior. How could that be a treadmill, never mind slavery?

The industrial age of mass-scale production required highly specialised and focussed workers. People who had to be trained in industrial-style schooling which had the sole purpose of teaching them the skills needed to work within the infrastructure of industrial society.

The second reason was to create a class of people who are nominally content, structured and more risk-averse than natural human evolution suggests. In other words, a domesticated society living free but in a complex and divisive framework. I called this modern-day slavery.

This was achieved through conditioning. You were expected to go to university, conditioned to get a mortgage, encouraged to buy the latest car, TV and holiday destination. Quite literally, bells rang for waking up, meal-times, work time, sleep time and retirement time.

And very few question why this is so – or quickly move on to browse the latest 60″ 3D TVs.

Middle-class lifestyles have conditioned the natural range of risk-taking behaviours down very close to zero. For most, the greatest risk they take is placing a bet on the Grand National.

Being an entrepreneur was, for me, all about taking risks. I talk to and meet entrepreneurs driven by other passions but the most influential for me are the biggest risk takers. And the taking of risks can and should continue after you become an entrepreneur – the worst enemy of an entrepreneur is success as it can breed complacency which in turn becomes domestication.

The world is changing, we live on the edge of a post-industrial society and work habits and expectations are changing, certainly amongst millennials. But for the vast majority of the population over the age of 25 they’re going to have to come to terms with being raised in captivity.

Let’s hope this new generation are generous enough to help our generation learn about risk and leave our middle-class comfort-blanket behind.

Final note: although nothing to do with how or what business I started – and therefore not relevant to WordPress, digital agencies or the Internet – it explains why I started a business and my core values that underline it. It’s my freedom from slavery, my alternative existence in this post-industrial world.