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I'm pretty sure Michael Arrington had this in mind when he wrote about risk this weekend:

Entrepreneurs, though, are all screwed up. They don't need to be rewarded for risk, because they actually get utility out of risk itself. In other words, they like adventure.

He likens entrepreneurs to swashbucklers of old. (Or is it olde?)

Why did some people way back in the 17th century, or whenever, become pirates? The likely payoff was abysmal, I imagine. There's a very small chance you'd make a fortune from some prize, and a very large chance you'd drown, or be hung, or shot, or whatever. And living on a small ship with a hundred other guys must have sucked, even for the captain.

But in my fantasy pirate world these guys just had really screwed up risk aversion algorithms. Unlike most of the other people they actually lusted after that risk. The potential for riches was just an argument for the venture. But the real payoff was the pirate life itself.

There's some serious oversimplification in this argument—and Arrington is talking about a very specific kind of start-up—but I think that he gets at an interesting truth: It is difficult to describe entrepreneurs' decisions in purely economic terms.

One thing that seems strange to me is that Arrington assumes that entrepreneurs' motivations are "screwed up." He seems to think that wanting more freedom and a greater sense of agency is somehow wrong. In fact, I think that's what most people (corporate lawyers and entrepreneurs alike) want. CEOs would do well to remember that they're not the only ones who like a little bit of adventure; most everyone does.

Last updated: Nov 1, 2010

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