(Published in The New Leaders:
The Business Bulletin for Transformative Leadership, November/December
Entrepreneurs are heroes. They
are not like heroes, they are heroes. Heroes and entrepreneurs are
called to and take part in the greatest and most universal adventure that life
has to offer: the simultaneous journey of self-discovery, spiritual growth, and
the personal creativity they make possible. In fact, the entrepreneur’s journey
closely resembles the journey of the “hero” in mythology, as outlined in the
book The Hero With a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell. There is an
amazing and profound similarity between not only the journey that entrepreneurs
take and the adventure of heroes but also in their personality traits. The
comparison is profound because the myths are
about universal human desires and conflicts that we see played out in the lives
But what is the hero's adventure?
Campbell writes "The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is
a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage:
separation-initiation-return, which might be named the nuclear unit of
the monomyth. A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region
of supernatural wonder; fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive
victory is won; the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the
power to bestow boons on his fellow man." How is the hero's adventure similar to
the entrepreneur's adventure?
The hero's journey begins with a
call to adventure. He or she is awakened by some herald which touches his or her
unconscious world and creative destiny. The entrepreneur, too, is "called" to
the adventure. By chance, he or she discovers a previously unknown product or way
to make a profit. The lucky discovery cannot be planned and is itself the herald
of the adventure.
The entrepreneur must step out of
the ordinary way of producing and into his or her imagination about the way
things could be to discover the previously undreamt of technique or product. The
"fabulous forces" might be applying the assembly line technique or
interchangeable parts to producing automobiles or building microcomputers in a
garage. The mysterious adventure is the time spent tinkering in research and
development. But once those techniques are discovered or developed, the
entrepreneur now has the power to bestow this boon on the rest of humankind.
Heroes bring change. Campbell refers to the constant change in
the universe as "The Cosmogonic Cycle" which "unrolls the great vision of the
creation and destruction of the world which is vouchsafed as revelation to the
successful hero." This is similar to Joseph Schumpeter's theory of
entrepreneurship called “creative destruction.” A successful entrepreneur
simultaneously destroys and creates a new world, or at least a new way of life.
Henry Ford, for example, destroyed the horse and buggy age while creating the
age of the automobile. The hero also finds that the world "suffers from a
symbolical deficiency" and "appears on the scene in various forms according to
the changing needs of the race." The changing needs and the deficiency
correspond to the changing market conditions or the changing desires for
products. The entrepreneur is the first person to perceive the changing needs.
Regarding personality traits, the
hero and entrepreneur are risk-takers and creators. But what is the source of
their creativity? People become creative when in the words of Campbell,
they "follow their bliss." This is the message of mythology. It means you should
engage in an activity, pursue a career or entrepreneurial venture because it is
what you love to do and it gives you a sense of personal importance and
fulfillment, not because the social system dictates that you do so. The drive
comes from within. It is this courageous action that opens up doors and creative
possibilities that did not previously exist. This is the journey of
self-discovery and spiritual growth. Although it may be long, painful, and
lonely, it is very rewarding.
Both the entrepreneur and hero
are aided by mentors, are humble enough to listen to others in order to learn
(and thus become creative), and face a road of trials where they must
continually slay the demons and dragons of their own unconscious (such as fear,
their egos) in order to discover their creative ability which ultimately comes
from giving themselves up to a higher power.
Ultimately, they become selfless
and can see the creative possibilities that the universe offers. They become
masters of two worlds, one of imagination and creativity and the other of
material things and business. This mastery makes it possible for them to bestow
Here is a link to a longer, more academic version.