I’ve built my innovation career on a number of basic principles, primary among them that new knowledge drives economic growth (and that economic growth is a good thing). My worldview is that new jobs will be created, as they have been for centuries, with the development of new technologies. I’m holding tight to that point of view, but it’s fair to say that many folks are having second thoughts. There are a substantial number of observers of current trends in artificial intelligence and bioscience who now believe that billions of people will become unemployed and unemployable. They are advocating for guaranteed income and other similar measures.
Another basic question that came up this month is about which entrepreneurs should be supported by public programs. I’ve always advocated for high-growth, traded sector companies, rather than generic “small business.” But I’ve recently changed my mind. We’re not so great at figuring out who will become high-growth, nor which sectors could transform from locally-serving to traded. Think about the craft beer revolution for a moment. It started out as entrepreneurs who just wanted to make small-batch beers for their local communities. Now, it’s broadening to a national movement where these beers are exported, where supply chains are kickstarting innovations in local farms and where the effect on sectors other than beverages is significant.
A more important question is What if this fixation on “high-growth” is really just a smokescreen for supporting entrepreneurs who look like us? Entrepreneurs come in many sizes and colors, and prejudging that a minority-owned or woman-owned business is “just a lifestyle business,” for instance, means that lots of opportunities are left on the table. I’m trying to come to grips with how my perspective has been shaped by my own (admittedly elitist) experiences (white, privileged, Harvard-educated) and to make room for alternative explanations that also support the facts of the matter.
How about you? What do you think?