An Alternative Imagination

Images of the future are the single most powerful socializing agents in Western Culture. — Jeremy Rifkin

The future of culture depends largely on the worldview of the next generation of entrepreneurs.

That’s a perspective we often find ourselves sharing as we tell people about the reason we do what we do at Praxis. Entrepreneurs are culture makers, artists of a unique flavor that paint on a blank corporate canvas.

We believe we are at a unique moment in history where these entrepreneurs have disproportionate influence on everything from the social problems we collectively work on to what each of us consume, practice, believe, and desire. As Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter and Square, recently declared on the cover of Forbes, “the most efficient means to spread an idea today is corporate structure.” Moreover, according to the Kauffman Foundation, 54% of millennials have started an organization or have the desire to start one.

French philosopher René Girard would likely attribute this to mimetics — the idea that all desire, even the desire to be an entrepreneur, is largely driven by the fact that others also desire it. This leaves us in a cultural situation with a lot of “entrepreneurs” looking for a venture to start. The motive is often the simple activity of entrepreneurship itself, people trying to find a market to make a living (and more) in. And as the saying goes, “the system is perfectly designed to get the results it is getting.” As a recent article in New York Magazine declared:

“We are living in a time of Great Change, and also a time of Not-So-Great Change…the brightest minds of a generation, the high test-scorers and mathematically inclined, have taken the knowledge acquired at our most august institutions and applied themselves to solving increasingly minor First World problems.

or, more to the point, is Jeff Hammerbacher, research scientist at Facebook and one of the company’s first 100 employees:

“The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.”

Ouch. So, what should we have to say about this? To be sure, there is nothing wrong with starting an organization, making a living, and providing for one’s (present or future) family. Work, done well, is worship. And we cannot affirm more the words of friend and mentor Steve Garber, who says, “Vocation is integral, not incidental, to the missio Dei.

But within these frameworks, and our own individual limitations, what exactly should we — or even could we—try? Should we start a venture simply because a market is available to start one?

At Praxis, we are focused on three primary questions:

1/ Why should we be entrepreneurs?
2/ What should we create?
3/ How should we create?

In the posts ahead, I’ll explore each of these questions in depth, but here’s my basic thesis: with an intentional theological, cultural, and entrepreneurial lens, we can discover a “way to live” for each of us as creators made in the image of God, the Imago Dei. Entrepreneurship provides each of us with an incredible platform to create new visions of the larger construct of the world. With our short lives — part of an expansive, historical story—we must create from our deepest cares and longings, those desires we see reflected in the very heart of God. By their very nature, these commitments are to others, not ourselves. And as we consider what to make, we must take stock of our current cultural moment, else we may miss the biggest opportunities for impact, or worse, carelessly create more of the very things that trap, tempt, and oppress both us and others. In the process, we must keep ourselves for the Master’s use, submitting to a Christian community that both encourages us and holds us in check. It is hard work maintaining integrity and a right motive in the world of Mammon, which is consistently and ruthlessly recruiting us to the lesser, decadent pleasures of power, prestige, and possessions, each of which can be instead used winsomely to benefit others to His glory.

This is our collective entrepreneurial calling.

If the culture does indeed depend on the next generation of entrepreneurs, our opportunity is to provide an Alternative Imagination of the future, a foreshadowing of the Kingdom to come.