I got to know Prof Scott Galloway on the Business Wars podcast while I was writing a leadership case study for Lora Centre students a couple of years ago.
The topic of the assignment was the failure of WeWork and the qualities of leadership exhibited by Adam Newman, the company’s founder.
Professor Scott Galloway is quite critical of Adam Newman and the entrepreneurial culture that promotes individualism and “winning at all costs” in Business Wars podcast.
He cautions eco-system builders and players to be wary of the religiosity of entrepreneurship.
Scott Galloway is a professor of marketing at NYU Stern School of Business and a prominent business commentator. He is a host of The Prof G Pod with Scott Galloway and a co-host of Pivot with tech journalist Kara Swisher.
Scott Galloway argues that entrepreneurship has taken on a religious quality in modern society, with many people viewing it as a path to salvation or self-realisation.
According to Galloway, the religiosity of entrepreneurship is characterised by several beliefs and practices.
- The belief that entrepreneurship is a calling: Many people view entrepreneurship as a vocation or calling, rather than just a way to solve problems and make money in the process. This can lead to a sense of mission or purpose that goes beyond purely economic goals.
- The worship of successful entrepreneurs: Society often idolises successful entrepreneurs, portraying them as heroic figures who have overcome great obstacles to achieve success. This can create unrealistic expectations and put pressure on aspiring entrepreneurs to achieve similar levels of success.
- The pursuit of innovation as a moral imperative: In the religion of entrepreneurship, innovation is often viewed as a moral imperative, with entrepreneurs seen as agents of progress and change. This can lead to a disregard for the social and environmental impacts of entrepreneurship.
- The belief in the power of individual agency: The religion of entrepreneurship places a strong emphasis on individual agency and self-determination, with the belief that anyone can achieve success through hard work and determination. This can lead to a disregard for the role of external factors such as luck, privilege, and structural inequality in determining success.
In his book The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, he pulls no punches about how society has given power to entrepreneurs and innovators to a point where they are not held accountable or get slap on the wrist for their misdemeanors.
He claims that Steve Jobs is still held up as a hero despite the fact that he was a lousy boss and had to be forced to pay child support for his daughter in court.
This quote reflects his concern on the religiosity of entrepreneurs:
I think there’s something sort of perverted in our society where we no longer worship at the altar of kindness and character, we worship at the altar of money and innovators.
He argues that the religiosity of entrepreneurship can have both positive and negative consequences. On the one hand, it can inspire people to take risks and pursue their dreams.
He has also noted the rise of the “founder worship” culture, in which successful entrepreneurs are elevated to near-mythical status and their every word and action is closely scrutinised.
Galloway has argued that this religiosity is driven by a number of factors, including the decline of traditional institutions such as organised religion, the rise of individualism and self-expression, and the cultural valorisation of innovation and disruption.
On the other hand, it can create unrealistic expectations and lead to a narrow focus on individual success at the expense of broader societal goals.
Scott Galloway’s opinions on the matter have me conflicted. One the one hand, I believe that entrepreneurship should be appreciated and held in high esteem as a vital factor in fostering a thriving economy, expanding employment opportunities, and decreasing income inequality.
Several studies link high entrepreneurship culture to low unemployment. Celebrating successful entrepreneurs helps achieve this.
On the other side, entrepreneurs who are constantly reminded of their own greatness may start to think of themselves as saints.
Business scandals, such as those involving WeWork’s Adam Newman, Theranos’ Elizabeth Holmes, FTX’s Sam Bankman-Fried, Steinhoff’s Markus Jooste, VBS Bank, Regal Bank, and Barings Bank, all share a common thread: the founders had fashioned themselves after a Christ-like figure and were worshiped by those around them.
Former president Thabo Mbeki once a letter to his organisation warning about the cult of personalities, the culture of individualism within the organisation triumphs over the collective benefit of all.
Mbeki was particularly concerned about the cult of personalities in the context of African politics, where he argued that it had been a persistent problem throughout the continent’s history. He believed that African leaders should be held accountable for their actions, and that the creation of a cult of personality could make it difficult for citizens to hold their leaders accountable or to demand transparency and accountability in governance.
Mbeki saw the cult of personalities as a threat to democratic values and good governance, and argued that leaders should be judged on their actions and policies, rather than their personal charisma or popularity.
The critique of the religiosity of entrepreneurship is rooted in his belief that the field of entrepreneurship has become too focused on individual success and innovation at the expense of broader social and environmental concerns.
The cult of entrepreneurship can be a barrier to progress, as it can prevent entrepreneurs from seeing the bigger picture and from working collaboratively to solve complex problems.
There is need for a more balanced approach that acknowledges the challenges and limitations of entrepreneurship while still celebrating its potential to drive positive change.
Entrepreneurship should be viewed as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.
Entrepreneurs should be encouraged to think more broadly about the impact of their work, and to consider how their innovations can be used to address some of the world’s most pressing social and environmental challenges.
Entrepreneurs should be encouraged to embrace a more holistic and collaborative approach to innovation, one that prioritises social and environmental impact alongside individual success
The religiosity of entrepreneurship can be a powerful force that drives innovation, creates jobs, and fuels economic growth. However, it is important to recognise the potential downsides of this phenomenon, and to work towards a more collaborative and socially responsible approach to entrepreneurship.
By encouraging entrepreneurs to think beyond their own personal success, and to consider the broader impact of their work on society and the planet, we can create a more sustainable and equitable economy.
By fostering a culture of innovation that prioritises social and environmental impact alongside individual achievement, we can ensure that entrepreneurship remains a force for good in the world.
Ultimately, the goal of entrepreneurship should not be to create a cult of personalities, but rather to build a better future for all.
With the right mindset and a commitment to collaboration and social responsibility, entrepreneurs can help to create a world in which innovation and progress go hand in hand with compassion and concern for the common good.
As the religious scriptures says on Matthew 16:26:
What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?