There is a Portuguese riddle that asks you to guess which being grows rapidly during its youth, takes 18 years to reach adulthood, usually lives to celebrate its 70th birthday, is able to survive adverse conditions, and produces sufficient wealth to feed a family.
In Portugal, a school kid who already knows the answer will smile at you and point his finger at a poster of an oak tree on the wall of his classroom. On the other hand, if you ask the same question during an evening course at a business school in Lisbon, students are likely to give you a different response. "What you mean is an entrepreneur,” they will tell you.
Inherited behaviour models are crumbling in our midst. Old morality is taking the blame for current problems, although often through spurious argumentation. Never mind. Ethical decay has reached such an extent that many parents have given up all attempts to provide moral guidelines to their offspring.
Where are we headed? Should we just continue to chant the old incantations of our culture even after it has become clear that the melody is broken? I don't think so. I submit that an ethical model for the 21st century is brewing in old pots and casseroles: the sovereign entrepreneur.
Like the oak tree in the Portuguese riddle, the new species will reproduce and spread worldwide. It will survive a thousand years and open the door to a new era of tolerance and prosperity. What are the characteristics of this ethical standard?
1.- TALENT AND SKILLS TO WITHSTAND ADVERSE WEATHER. Through the ages, oak trees have taken root in most areas of the world, from California to Italy, from Argentina to South Africa. Even in unfavourable environments, these plants have grown stronger with each generation.
2.- QUICK LEARNING AND RAPID IMPLEMENTATION. The internet is compressing more and more the time needed to acquire professional or business training. Forget about dragging along six-years at an expensive University. Instead, turn on your mp3 player and listen to lectures in your field of interest. How long will it take for sovereign entrepreneurs to learn their trade? Possibly, less than two years, which, by the way, is the average lifespan of oak tree leaves.
3.- LOYALTY TO UNIVERSAL ETHICAL PRINCIPLES. Virtues such as flexibility, openness, tolerance, and honesty will render entrepreneurs sovereign of their fate and unconstrained in their business approach. In many cases, adherence to universal values will be preferred to identification with a specific country or culture. Oak trees have spread around the world on the basis of the essential characteristics of their species, irrespective of local accidents and fashions.
Despite massive efforts to foretell the future, nobody can predict accurately what is to come during the next years. Will we witness currencies collapse? Will major shifts in world economic flows take place?
No matter how difficult the situation becomes, sovereign entrepreneurs constitute the species best fit to survive. When everything is said and done, wherever you live, you will always need to call up an expert to fix your toilet when it breaks down. That expert, you see, that's the person you want to be.
[Image by blmurch under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]