Despite a mainstream media blackout, the Occupy Wall Street protest is becoming hard to ignore for people who would prefer it to just go away.
The protest has now spread to other cities across the United States and the world, with a Global Day of Action having taken place on October 15. There’s an occupation going on right now here in my city at the bottom of the world (Auckland, New Zealand). I thought I’d take this opportunity to analyze the protest and look into the implications it may have for entrepreneurs, both aspiring and the established.
As you’ll see, I think what’s happening right now on Wall Street – regardless of the eventual outcome of the protests – has some important implications in terms of business ethics. Stay with me. I’m going deep on this one. I’m not going to discuss surface techniques for making money here – there’s tons of that sort of content all over the web, so you can afford to take a break and step back for a moment. I want to get you to examine the core principles at the heart of your business or idea.
What Is Occupy Wall Street All About?
One of the big criticisms that has been leveled at the Wall Street protestors is that they don’t even know what they’re protesting. And I’m sure for many of them, that’s entirely true – they’re just generally discontent so they’re “on the bandwagon.”
Many of the protestors, if the signs they wave are to be taken as a good indication, are protesting income inequality and corporate greed – and these are certainly legitimate concerns in America and virtually every other country around the world. After all, if you really think about it, this is the core reason why many of us become entrepreneurs in the first place, isn’t it?
We all turned to entrepreneurialism in the first place because we realized that working for a fixed income that kept buying less and less over time was a losing battle. We recognize that the system we live in has an inherent imbalance – there will be winners and losers, and we want to be among the winners.
As entrepreneurs most of us have also had that rather shocking realization at some point throughout our lives that most of the education we received growing up was never meant to turn us into entrepreneurs. The mainstream education system, ultimately, is designed to create employees. It instills an employee mindset, employee values and ultimately an employee world view. That’s why websites like this exist – not just to teach techniques for success in business, but to offer an alternative world view, one in which you’re the boss, not the worker.
Anyway, those reading Entrepreneurs-Journey.com are the ones who have decided they’re going to go to the top of the heap (or at least not get stuck at the bottom). Perhaps once we get there we’ll share the spoils with some of the less fortunate, but in any case we recognize there’s a game to be played, and strategy and work are required to succeed.
As a result of this line of thinking, the knee-jerk reaction of many people in business to the protests is that it’s a bunch of spoiled college kids and “unwashed hippies” looking for hand-outs they don’t deserve, recommending economic policies they don’t understand and which will never work.
But the reality, I believe, is that this protest is essentially one about business ethics. Many of the protestors are quite openly anti-capitalist, be they anarchists, socialists, communists or something else entirely – but there are also quite a lot of free market capitalists amongst them who recognize that the system is broken, and it’s broken because some of the people in the halls of power – both in Wall Street banks and Washington – have been up to no good.
As the protests evolve and become more coherent in their goals and message, I believe you’ll see more concrete demands coming out asking for greater transparency in government, and especially in the relationship between government and big business. On top of transparency, people want to see some accountability.
People in the street are beginning to catch on to the games being played within the big Wall Street banks – engaging in behavior like shorting the very financial products they’re selling to their own investors. In other words, misrepresenting an investment product, selling it to a company and then gambling on the failure or fall of that company. I think we can all agree that’s not an ethical business practice.
If you haven’t heard about this sort of behavior, check out this article from the Huffington Post providing some details of what Goldman Sachs was up to during the financial crisis.
People are sick of seeing bankers get away with punishments that equate to a slap on the wrist. Of course, protestors targeting “capitalism” and “the free market” are off the mark, because a true free market would have cleaned house a long time ago. The free market didn’t get us where we are – an unhealthy marriage between governments and big corporations did.
How This Relates To Entrepreneurialism
What does any of this have to do with your own business ventures?
Well, I think it illustrates a very important lesson. For one thing, it’s instructive of the world of difference between certain high-flying CEOs on Wall Street and your typical Internet entrepreneur or home-based start-up. The value systems are often completely different, and they have to be.
I’ve often found myself distressed by the lack of integrity in Internet marketing. The anonymity, lack of transparency and lack of accountability of the Internet has unfortunately allowed a snake-oil-salesman mentality to survive online for quite a while.
The way I see it, there are two extremes on the spectrum of profitable Internet business models:
- At one extreme you have the model which assumes a never-ending supply of “suckers” and “fresh meat,” which aims to use powerful copy and psychological tricks to get customers to buy a product for a price, which is well beyond the product’s true value (if the product has any real value at all). The mentality of someone running such a business is more or less the same as that of someone running a Ponzi scheme.
- At the other end of the spectrum are businesses which put delivering true value at the heart of their entire business plan. They focus on developing the best product on the market and putting it in front of their customers. They see copywriting and sales as key tools to maximize sales, but they’re not resorting to trickery or outright lies in order to sell their products because their products are actually good. They do what they say they’re going to do.
So ask yourself – where does your business lie on this spectrum?
Is what your customer needs your ultimate guiding beacon? Or have you been slipping towards using tactics where you’re trying to create a fake impression of value where no value to the customer really exists?
Remember, as an entrepreneur you’re competing on the free market. You don’t have the benefit of a government lobby which can help put in place subsidies or hook you up with a bailout if you take a bad risk.
So I suppose what I’m trying to say is: always measure your success and orient your goals in terms of the value you put out into the world. If you do that, the profits will come and you’ll be able to sleep at night.
If you’re anything like me your ultimate goal as an entrepreneur is personal freedom. When you put profit ahead of your contribution to the world, you’re giving up a part of that freedom.
Money is the means to an end – when you make it an end in itself, it rules you. Not the other way around. Don’t forget that.
Images courtesy of David Shankbone from the Wikimedia Commons