Countries that seek to grow their economy need to foster more entrepreneurs like Apple founder, Steve Jobs, according to best-selling author and New Yorker staff writer, Malcolm Gladwell.
He was speaking at the Australian Chambers Business Congress in the Gold Coast.
The traditional view of entrepreneurs as those that are fearless in taking risks is slightly misleading and should be revised, Gladwell said.
He argued successful entrepreneurs are those that are minimise operational risks but take enormous social risks.
Steve Jobs was raised as a prime example of this. The personal computer by Apple, the Macintosh, which uses a mouse and a simple graphic user interface (GUI) was actually a concept Jobs ‘borrowed’ from Xerox’s innovation centre in Silicon Valley.
The Macintosh was a success but Jobs was reviled in Silicon Valley, a place which prides innovation above all else. The act of appropriating his idea from Xerox meant Jobs risked his reputation for a product that worked.
Jobs was confident the Mac would be a hit, which meant he took very little operational risk, but to put his reputation on the line indicated he was very willing to take that social risk. This lethal combination was, according to Gladwell, key to a successful entrepreneur.
“When you think of Steve Jobs in his career, you realise he’s done this again and again; he has taken the operationally risk-averse yet socially different pat,” he said. “He’s never been a trailblazer; he wasn’t the first to come out with an MP3 player nor was he the first to bring out the smartphone but he waiting until he was sure these technologies worked before bringing out his own products.
“He sacrificed any claim to be an innovator.”
Gladwell pointed out the trait to be risk-averse yet socially indifferent is a rare and difficult combination since humans are hard-wired to crave social acceptance.
“It’s really easy to be operationally risky and socially risk averse because we are surrounded by a world that rewards the combination of traits that we don’t want,” he said. “What we want to do to encourage entrepreneurship is the opposite.”
The way to foster these traits in businesses is to bring in a truly diverse group of people, Gladwell claimed. This doesn’t just meant ethnically diverse but people from all walks of life.
“We need to take seriously the task of taking true diversity in business decisions,” he said. “Maybe we can bring in people outside of the traditional areas of business education.
“Maybe we don’t need those people to have a degree in finance. They can be engineers and so on… people that can think differently.”
Gladwell also stressed women should play an increasing role in business management since they are wired to think differently to men and excluding them would effectively cut out half the potential workforce.
The Australian Chambers Business Congress concludes on Friday.