Entrepreneurs carry risk and uncertainty, and in this lies their possible greatness. But there is a fine line between heroes and villains, between value and profit. Here then comes the contrepreneur.
An interview with Rahim Taghizadegan.
Do you have to be crazy to still become an entrepreneur in Europe? Or have entrepreneurs always been the crazier ones? These are questions Rahim Taghizadegan asks in his book Helden, Schurken, Visionäre: Entrepreneure waren gestern – jetzt kommen die Contrepreneure (English: Heroes, Villains, Visionaries: Entrepreneurs are the Past – Here Come the Contrepreneurs). And while there is no definite answer on the insanity of entrepreneurs per se, Taghizadegan constructs a grand picture of entrepreneurship throughout time.
Taghizadegan, an economic philosopher, director of the academic research institute Scholarium in Vienna and an entrepreneur himself, begins, true to his academic nature and his other publications, with a historical and linguistic analysis. Where does the word entrepreneur come from? And who were the first entrepreneurs? In an interesting and surprising history, he traces the profession across centuries and languages all the way to the age of knights, warriors and pirates, when the thin line between respected work and criminality was still blurry – a phenomenon that partly remains. The journeys to gaining new profit take on different shapes and the word ad-venture begins to appear in a new light to the reader.
In the last part of Heroes, Villains, Visionaries, Taghizadegan enters a discussion on today’s markets and how they have become distorted. In today’s age of paper currency, he writes, we are too busy with cheering on yesterday’s accomplishments and chasing temporary trends instead of focusing on true value and encouraging thinking outside the box. We have lost our sense of true innovation; we prefer to find out where the crowds are running, then run ahead and “lead” for a while. The result of consuming short-term profit over the long-term value-adding creates a stultification of consumer spending, which he continues to analyse.
All this leads to Taghizadegan’s final suggestion of the contrepreneur as a viable alternative to current forms of entrepreneurship. It is the contrepreneur who, by rejecting the status quo, brings us what we need before we even want it. And while contrepreneurs may seem crazy now, they are the ones who will flourish in the future. Consequently, Taghizadegan calls for freedom for those who swim against the tide, those who are crazy and brave enough to work for tomorrow instead of celebrating yesterday.
You dedicate yourself to the dis-illusion of our time since you speak of the present as an era of illusions. How do you see today’s entrepreneur in this regard?
The economic cycle is essentially a cycle of illusion – these cycles are broken by economic crises, which are basically exposures of accumulated entrepreneurial mistakes, which, in such a quantity and temporally dense occurrence, can only be explained by illusion. In this sense, today’s entrepreneurs are in danger of not being obstinate enough and of letting themselves be misled by distorted market signals as well as political and prestige signals.
What role should a future-oriented, entrepreneurial elite play?
The function of entrepreneurship is to create the future in a smoother way by rearranging limited production resources against current interests and instead according to future preferences, needs and possibilities. While politics runs after current majority preferences and thereby sacrifices the future for the sake of the present, long-term entrepreneurship helps the future become a reality.
How do you differentiate the terms contrepreneur and visionary? And how should we see future middle-class family businesses in contrast, i.e. those who are neither innovative nor pseudo or zeitgeist entrepreneurs, but who still deliver real value to concrete clients?
Visions can also be utopias or delusions. Entrepreneurial implementation at one’s own expenses consists of more than nice words and big plans. But in the present, particularly when it’s as distorted as today, really implementing the new often goes against the norm– the contrepreneur is someone who does things differently in contrast to someone who simply thinks differently or follows others. I propose this term because it’s quite possible that entrepreneurs will soon be discredited by a subsidised, distorted and short-term form of pseudo-entrepreneurship.
What characteristics should contrepreneurs have with regards to their ethics and values?
Entrepreneurs stand for the old virtue of moderation, the efficient use of funds and resources, and production in place of consumption. But this virtue is not enough without the antecedent virtues of wisdom and courage, which appear obstinate in times of madness and cowardice: to stress these virtues, I speak of the contrepreneur.
Do you see globalisation and growing international networking as a chance or a threat to European entrepreneurs?
International division of labour means always more chances and possibilities, whether for entrepreneurs or for consumers. Yet, there is also the uncorrelated phenomenon of “globalisation”, which is the levelling of the world through monetary distortion and politics. This equalisation, which doesn’t match people’s voluntary preferences, is nearing its end and it’s triggering strong counter reactions and desires. European entrepreneurs, provided they haven’t arranged themselves too much with the status quo, are predestined to profit from the rising desires for diversity and authenticity.
You ask, “Do you have to be crazy to still become an entrepreneur in Europe?” Why do you mention Europe specifically?
Europe is the world region with the highest capital density, particularly if cultural capital is considered. We are still living well from this capital, but it has also led to a mentality of entitlement, behind which terrifying capital consumption is taking place. This capital consumption depends above all on the fact that entrepreneurs were assigned the ungrateful function of de facto financial officials as well as scapegoats for inflation and high workload. With the resulting skimmed prosperity, whole generations could afford to be lulled into a parallel world, in which prosperity comes from the state and only needs to be distributed. As an entrepreneur, one has either come to terms with being a profiteer of the system or instead has one foot in prison or in the pillory. Therefore, it takes quite an amount of recklessness to still become an entrepreneur in today’s Europe – particularly in Western Europe. As madness and ingenuity can’t be differentiated in advance, we should be grateful for those who are crazy.
How does the saying go? When the world ends, go to Vienna. Everything happens five/ten/twenty years later there.
Yes, the higher sloppiness, corruption and cabal belong, paradoxically, to Vienna’s last remaining assets. The more thorough, colder and straight-forward the political apparatus is becoming, the more unbearable Vienna becomes. Until today, this applies: Austria’s totalitarianism is five years milder than Germany’s. Not a big difference, but at least that.
You consider start-ups to be, more often than not, a medial projection surface. Do we even need start-ups or are they simply a current hype? What would an alternative look like?
Subsidised start-ups are a hype of today’s gesture politics. This causes such great damage to the idea of entrepreneurship that we will probably have to say goodbye to the term entrepreneurship. Consequently, I call the alternative contrepreneurship – what this alternative may look like, why it’s necessary and what fascinating history lies behind it is what I explain in more detail in my book.
Find the German version of the interview here.
Title: Helden, Schurken, Visionäre: Entrepreneure waren gestern – jetzt kommen die Contrepreneure
Publisher: FinanzBuch Verlag
Publishing date: May 2016