Something Mark said in reply to my last blog post reminded me that I’ve been wanting to write an article about the importance of faith in enterpreneurial endeavors. Mark states that (emphasis mine):
But there is no proof that any plan…will advance the day people return to the Moon by even a year, not to mention to a time when many people will get excited about it now.
The question is, what exactly does he mean by proof? What “proof” is there that the ESAS approach will work. Can Mark see the future well enough to guarantee with 100% certainty that NASA will through the ESAS plan place 4 astronauts on the surface of the moon within 12 years? No he can’t. He believes that to be the case, but he has no more proof of the reality of that belief than any “Internet Rocketeer” does of the feasibility of their “pet plan”. Now, I could go on about specific peaces of evidence that lead me to strongly feel that DIRECT, or some of the ideas I’ve talked about are likely to take far less time and cost far less money. But that’s not the point of this post.
The point I want to make is that all entrepreneurism is based to some extent or another on the principle of faith. The LDS prophet Joseph Smith had this to say about faith:
[F]aith is the assurance which men have of the existence of things which they have not seen, and the principle of action in all intelligent beings.
If men were duly to consider themselves, and turn their thought and reflections to the operations of their own minds, they would readily discover that it is faith, and faith only, which is the moving cause of all action in them; that without it both mind and body would be in a state of inactivity, and all their exertions would cease, both physical and mental.
Were this class to go back and reflect upon the history of their lives, from the period of their first recollection, and ask themselves what principle excited them to action, or what gave them energy and activity in all their lawful avocations, callings, and pursuits, what would be the answer? Would it not be that it was the assurance which they had of the existence of things which they had not seen as yet? Was it not the hope which you had, in consequence of your belief in the existence of unseen things, which stimulated you to action and exertion in order to obtain them? Are you not dependent on your faith, or belief, for the acquisition of all knowledge, wisdom, and intelligence? Would you exert yourselves to obtain wisdom and intelligence, unless you did believe that you could obtain them? Would you have ever sown, if you had not believed that you would reap? Should you have ever planted, if you had not believed that you would gather? … In a word, is there anything that you would have done, either physical or mental, if you had not previously believed? Are not all your exertions of every kind, dependent on your faith?
It’s a lengthy quote, but one that I hope you can see is utterly relevant. In most areas of life, and especially in entrepreneurism, we have to deal with uncertainty and imperfect information, most especially about the future. We don’t know for certain that something will suceed or fail until after we have tried.
And that is one of the main reasons why there even is such a thing as entrepreneurship. We can’t see the future. There is risk inherent in everything. Entrepreneurs are people who see what they think is an undervalued resource or idea, and then act to bring that resouce or idea to its proper value. Inherent in this is faith. Entrepreneurial rewards entail entrepreneurial risks. Building an educated guess about the future and acting on it is the key to just about all progress in humanity. But it also comes with a lot of failure and a lot of ambiguity. In order to make any progress in this life, you always have to act before you have perfect information. Entrepreneurs are people who learn to accept this fact, and good entrepreneurs are the ones who find ways to act wisely even in the face of uncertainty, imperfect information, and ambiguity.
One of my teachers in college (himself a very succesful entrepreneur) said that sometimes in a project you can see the end, the beginning, and every step along the way, almost as clear as day. Other times, you can see the end, and the beginning, but not be certain about much past the first few steps, but you move forward anyone trusting that the path will become clear as you go. People who are incapable of handling these sorts of risks and ambiguity are not and will never be entrepreneurs. People who are too cynical and unbelieving will have a hard time ever making the leaps of faith inherent in any uncertain enterprise.
On the other hand, one really does have to be careful to neither be too cynical and unbelieving nor to be too trusting, gullible, and willing believing. There are lots of incorrect ideas, flawed plans, and bad ventures out there. There are even situations where in spite of the best planning in the world reality intervenes. The challenge in life is not determining whether to have faith–even the crustiest, most cynical of atheists or skeptics uses faith every single day of his life–but what to have faith in. In fact, that may very well be the biggest challenge in life.
So, while it may often appear that it is safer to be cynical, and to demand proof before action, the future belongs to those are willing to act based on evidence of things unseen.
[Update: The “Mark Whittington Award for Completely Missing the Point” goes once again to Mark Whittington…
I never said anywhere that one shouldn’t do any due dilligence, and that one should jump into a venture without any evidence. Quite the contrary in fact. I was just pointing out that proof and evidence are not synonymous. Evidence shows that there is reason to believe something is true, but proof shows with certainty that something is true, and can only really happen after the fact. My only point was that in entrepreneurism, you have to act with a level of evidence that is always less than 100%. But I wouldn’t want to keep Mark from providing us with some more entertainment from Planet Strawman]