Thursday, 22 May 2014

Why entrepreneurship is safer than passivity. More often than not, the safe answer is the wrong one. Understanding the downside of safety

Prosperity and happiness would be easy to achieve if we could make correct decisions all day long. Imagine how efficient we would become if we never succumbed to seductive lies. How far could we go if we never got distracted by irrelevancies? How much would we profit if we never wasted time chasing what cannot be accomplished?

Why entrepreneurship is safer than passivity

An exalted view of permanence and safety can be a constant source of erroneous choices. Human beings seem to suffer from a persistent cognitive distortion that makes them favour all things that are tall, wide, and long. If you think about it, you will find few exceptions to this misconception.

The groundless preference for tall, wide, and long applies equally to space and time. In cities, residents like tall buildings better than small houses. In the countryside, hotels are built next to wide lakes, not little streams. In literature, readers prefer long novels to short stories.

Our belief in permanence and safety is the culmination of our cultural bias towards everything tall, wide, and long. Children stories such as Three Little Pigs teach infants the desirability of solid homes. Career advisers encourage youths to choose well-established professions. Dietitians recommend patients to keep a constant weight.

More often than not, the safe answer is the wrong one

Safety is presented as the perfect answer to all questions. It is the one solution that fits all types, the one preference that always satisfies. Temporary approaches are considered unwise. Anything transient is to be revised; anything incomplete, despised. Long live the mirage of permanence and safety.

How wrong and how historically false. The truth is that human beings have been leading predictable lives for less than 10.000 years. During the ten-times larger period that preceded agriculture, men and women had few routines and were, in certain aspects, much better off.

Prehistoric hunter-gatherers moved around frequently, carrying their household items with them. A varied diet and daily exercise kept them healthy. Tribes rarely stayed long in one place; their changing habitations made them difficult targets for parasites.

In those days, man lived on the alert. The world was unsafe; the environment, disorderly; man's attitude, entrepreneurial. Each season brought him new challenges, each territory fresh scents and herbs. To danger, he reacted with prudence; to opportunities, with self-reliance.

Safety made its entrance in man's life together with agriculture. Land cultivation and animal domestication brought us a steady supply of wheat, rice, corn, and cheese. On the other hand, they also brought us smallpox, influenza, malaria, measles, lice, and vermin.

As soon as human beings built permanent dwellings, rats became their companions. Insects multiplied fed by our blood. Bacteria found a fertile ground to grow; viruses procreated and mutated. Sickness turned to epidemic, illness to pandemic, and disease to morbidity.

Understanding the downside of safety

Safety possesses a downside of which many people become aware only when it's too late. Routine has advantages, but it can blind you to innovation. Predictability has benefits, but it can render you passive. Steadiness has charms that can make you forget to profit from the present day.

Viewing regularity as supreme virtue can lead to the demise of independent thinking. The idea of permanence will keep you down if you let it overrule your perception of reality. If you trust routine too strongly, you will develop tunnel vision. If your entrepreneurial skills wane, change will find you unprepared.

For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my book The 10 Principles of Rational Living


Image by David Paul Ohmer under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under