Sidestepping reason

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Our inherent creativity and hopefulness – the urge and passion to try new things – are often deemed unreasonable. That is, it is impossible for others to see any point to them or they simply seem too far fetched. This reflects a pervasive genius-vs.-lunatic tension between the retrospective clarity of breakthroughs once they happen and the paralyzing uncertainty of those yet to happen.

In the documentary Banking on Bitcoin, Erik Voorhees reflects on the questions of the early days of BitInstant: “Is this going to change the world in a good way? Are we just a bunch of crazy people who don’t know what the hell we are talking about? Or are we actually starting to initiate an industry which in hindsight would look obvious to everyone but right now not?”.

Similarly, in his book Against Method, Paul Feyerabend argues that (scientific) ideas are often made clear by actions, that today’s rationality exists because at various points in the past reason – as it operated then – had been overruled. On this basis, the only principle that can be defended in all circumstances is “anything goes”.  “If scientific achievements can be judged only after the event and if there is no abstract way of ensuring success beforehand, then there exists  no special way of weighing scientific promises”.

Or consider the closing scene of the movie Ratatouille, when the food critic – overwhelmed by the taste of the dish prepared by Remy the rat – writes in his review: “But there are times when the critic truly risks something and that is in the discovery and defense of the new… Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.”

In a new paper with Daniel Lerner and Richard Hunt – Action! Moving beyond the intendedly-rational logics of entrepreneurship – we explore the implications for entrepreneurship theory of action without reason. We propose that:

(1) entrepreneurial processes can be initiated by non-deliberate actions whose consequences give rise to the very purpose that ultimately defines those processes;

(2) such actions generate consequences that cannot be anticipated or evaluated by a priori judgment; the relationship between the two is diachronic.

Deviation – sidestepping reason – seems to be a vital condition for progress. The problem is it is neither necessary nor sufficient: and yet we can’t reap the benefits of entrepreneurship without it.