Modern and not so modern ‘social movements’ with or a without business propositions are portrayed as a concerted and positioned philosophy first, from which then, the ‘movement’ (and the business) takes shape. Translation: philosophy first, movement and practicalities, and business follow.
Take Uber; democratization of transportation in cities, competing with old fashioned taxi monopolies, disruption of a business model supported by technology. So the story reads.
Zipcar. Cars waiting for you in dedicated places, you rent by the hour, you return the car. Democratization of transport again, technology enabled do-it-yourself going from A to B by car without owning it. Disruptive model, changing the world of personal travel.
The so-called ‘sharing economy’ is another example. You own less and less and share more and more, from lawn mowers to anything. This is less consumerism, greater sustainability. Great.
Airbnb. Adios hotels; book a room, an apartment, a villa, anywhere. More disruption of the model. New concept and new philosophy embraced by thousands of followers.
All these are good examples of disruptive business models and, very often, are portrayed as ‘philosophy’, a matter of principles, an indication of the change in the world, a new lens, a clever and new worldview. Again, philosophy first and then the translation.
Nothing further from the truth. Most of these ‘disruptions’ were born out of a necessity with little philosophical, worldview, of the type ‘this will change the world for good’. Airbnb’s original members struggled to pay the rent and offered rooms. How’s that for a ‘change the world philosophy’? Uber, often portrayed as the mother of all evils (for taxi companies in cities, that is) and ‘sweatshops on wheels’, has created a lot of personal freedom (in hours to work, for example) and work flexibility. The ‘I am my own boss’ philosophy (‘don’t you see this is the thing that new generations want?’) plus ‘anything is possible with digital’(apps), plus creative or not so creative disruption came later.
The real stories are more prosaic than the portrayed philosophies in a disruptive world. Incidentally, all of them are more or less represented as enabled by incredible disruptive technologies, when technology in most of them is not really a big deal.
These examples are a mere replication of the way we shape our lives. We think that we have a theory first and then ‘we put it into practice’. The theory is the clever bit, or the romantic, or the save-the-world bit. But most of the time, we have practices first and then we extract a theory that explains them.
My experience with entrepreneurs to whom we attribute visionary, change the world philosophies, is that they are the first to be surprised about the attribution. Most want to solve a problem. Period. Not to change the world. This being said, many also love the post-hoc flattering attribution of Socratic and semi-messianic visions.