Business Ownership Is Normal, Being An Employee Is Historically the Exception

Here’s the historical perspective on why no one wants to be an executive and why 65% want to own their own business. We are going back where we came from – business ownership.

For Thousands of Years We Did It Differently

Before 1850 when the Factory System of the Industrial Age took over production, on the low side 80% of adults owned their own business. Almost no one worked for someone else. Owning your own business has always been the norm, and I believe we’ll return to it.

Employment is For Children Only—Adults Need Not Apply

Adults were repulsed by the Factory System concept. The prevailing mindset for thousands of years was pride in ownership, the ability to control your own destiny, freedom to call your own shots, and the desire to master something difficult. People focused on Making Meaning, not just money.

The result? In 1820, 50% of factory workers were under the age of 9, and 86% were under the age of 14, all of them orphans and poor children. Only children would put up with the dehumanizing and controlling work world we have since resigned ourselves to in cartoons like Dilbert, movies like Office Space, and TV sitcoms like The Office.

People Still Don’t Want to Be Employed

An Intelligent Office Work IQ Survey gives us a window into the past before “employment”, and also into our future. Zero percent of respondents to the survey aspired to be corporate executives, while nearly 65 percent said they aspired to be an independent business person. They cited a desire for freedom, reflecting their ancestor’s repulsion to employment.

Employees Take More Risks

Perspective is everything. Before the Factory System, working for someone else was seen as a very risky proposition where you lost control of both your present and your future. It was clear to the 80% that employees could only hope the company would follow through on their promise to help them make it to old age. Their fears were well-founded. A lot of modern employees have lost a lifetime of retirement benefits as companies like United Airlines and others make the retirement promise, then regularly reorganize and leave employees out in the cold.

Owning Your Own Business Only Seems More Risky
So why have the numbers flip-flopped from 80% working for themselves, to 85% working for others? Very simply—corporate America sells short-term security. If you go to work for a corporation, a check starts arriving two weeks later—guaranteed income, of sorts. But to gain that quick fix, the employee gives up all other control over their work, and jeopardizes being fired two weeks later or losing their retirement to bankruptcy.

In contrast, when someone starts his or her own business, all the risk is on the front end. It could be months or much longer before they start taking home money. To secure control over their future, they take the shorter-term risk to strike out on their own, knowing that 90% of life is what you make happen, and 10% is what happens to you.

Own a Business, or Work For Someone Who Will Encourage You to Own

The Participation Age is making it easier to start your own business. It is also creating a hybrid where people may not own the actual company, but who get to bring the whole, messy, creative person to work, make decisions, and be treated like equal adults at work. In a Participation Age company, people can have ideas and actually start new product lines as if they owned the business. At DEG Corporation an employee had an idea and created a $9mlllion division she now runs.

Back To The Future

We’ve got a few thousand years of seeing business ownership as the norm, and only 170 years of being told by corporations that owning your own business is too risky. But younger generations aren’t growing up in the shadow of the Industrial Age and are showing a healthy disdain for employment. I have high hopes they will reignite business ownership as the norm.

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