Politicians sell hope. But are the people buying?
That usually depends on two things: (1) How hopeless are the economic circumstances? (2) How believable is the messenger of hope? In Spain, for example, times are tough. A recent story by Laura Secorun Palet on Ozy.com noted:
"For Sale" signs are everywhere and even the most menial job vacancy draws hundreds of applicants. The situation is so dire that new King Felipe VI ascended the throne last week without a celebratory coronation, opting instead for a staid parliamentary handover. Youth unemployment stands at a whopping 55 percent, and the national research and development budget for promoting new approaches in technology and other projects has been slashed by a quarter.
Pretty bleak. But politically speaking, the new king has done something interesting. He's leaned on an entrepreneur to deliver the message of hope.
The Basics of Inspiration
That entrepreneur is none other than Pau Garcia-Milà, age 26. His first company--launched in 2005, after nine previous failed ideas--was eyeOS, an open-source desktop virtualization service. It raised $1.4 million in angel investments in 2011; it's used by Mitsubishi and IBM; and it was acquired in April (price undisclosed) by Spanish telecommunications giant Telefónica, reports Palet.
Here in the US, stories like this seem to happen every month. We're almost numb to tales of entrepreneurial perseverance. Sure, American business owners grasp the need for hope. They appreciate simple, mountain-climbing metaphors about overcoming adversity. But for the most part, there's daily evidence that the dreams of small business owners can become realities. Hope matters, but for American startups, the focus is mostly on obtaining capital, customers, and star employees. There's a generally accepted faith that hard work has a chance to pay off.
In Spain, it seems, the entrepreneurs--and the citizens in general--need restoration of that rudimentary faith. And the new king has annointed Garcia-Milà as a messenger.
For American business leaders, what will stand out about Garcia-Milà's messages is how basic they are. The actionable takeaways, the tidbits of know-how, the bulletpointed how-tos are few and far between. This is not managerial insight from the Drucker tree of wisdom. Nor is it innovation intelligence from the (recently challenged) Christensen canon.
Instead, it's cut from the cloth of idealistic, inspirational messaging--from an entrepreneur who's walked the walk. It's similar to eBay founder Pierre Omidyar's advice: "Inspiration is much more effective than delegation," he has said. Coming from a nobody, those words seem bromidic. Coming from Omidyar--and buttressed by his success with eBay--they potentially mean something.
So when Garcia-Milà says that "eighty percent of people who have ideas don't pursue them because their environment tells them they shouldn't," he has credibility. The success of eyeOS is evidence of what can happen when you pursue an idea despite previous failures and a challenging environment.
The King's Endorsement
The most convincing part of Garcia-Milà's message is that it appears to be resonating with Spanish entrepreneurs. "His book helped me see it's not a matter of waiting for the idea to come but chasing after it," is what Maria Rosés, 27, told Palet. Rosés is transforming her family's winery into an eco-tourism hotel. The book she's referring to, You've Got An Idea, You Just Don't Know It Yet, was Garcia-Milà's second book. It made the nonfiction top 10 in Spain and Mexico.
It was Garcia-Milà's first book, It's All Yet to be Done, that contains a foreword written by Spain's new king, who at the time was the prince. "With cheerful conviction [Garcia-Milà] shows how this globalized world offers unique opportunities to the young men and women of Spain," he wrote.
That endorsement makes a lot of sense, especially when it's Garcia-Milà--and not the king--who's saying things like: "We are not missing talent in Spain. What we're actually missing is perseverance." At once, this opinion praises and criticizes the people of Spain. Coming from a politician--especially a prince who just became king--the opinion that the populace lacks perseverance could seem elitist and clueless--and land him in hot water.
Coming from an accomplished entrepreneur, who doesn't necessarily need to curry favor with the populace (although doing so would help his book sales), the statement packs a stronger punch.
For ages, politicians have aligned themselves with the respected business leaders of their realms. Presidents don hard hats and visit factories; a prince pens a book intro. But these gestures all seem like meaningless imagery if on-the-ground economic opportunities continue to be bleak--and even the most nobly "persistent" of dream chasers have lost their reason to believe.
Inspiration always matters. But any actual entrepreneur will tell you that it only goes so far.