5 Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn From German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche
Nihilist. Religious denier. Reformed romantic.
Inspiration for entrepreneurs?
Turns out, you can learn a lot about running a business from Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher and philologist who turned Romantic thinking on its head. He actually had some ideas that provide a helpful path for entrepreneurs.
Just look at his overall philosophy of life affirmation: Essentially that says we shouldn't let all the ideas and doctrine around us and let it drain our energy. Isn't one of the essential ingredients of true entrepreneurism the willingness to let go of doctrine and seek our own way?
Here are five specific concepts by Nietzsche that still resonate for business leaders today:
1. Philosophizing with a hammer
In his 1889 book Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche philosophized about challenging -- or taking a "hammer" to -- our idols. This is central thinking behind an entrepreneurial idea: Idols are the status quo, or the areas most of the market believes can't be changed. Often, though, the willingness to test the infallibility of a concept shows that nothing is immune from improvement. That leads to opportunity.
2. Creative chaos
It was in the 1883 novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None, that Nietzsche, in advancing his concept of the ubermensch, writes, “I tell you: One must still have chaos in oneself, to give birth to a dancing star.” There has always been a correlation among creativity, drive and a little bit of nuttiness, particularly in entrepreneurs. After all, you have to be a little crazy to quit your job, upend your life and give yourself over to a business. This chaos feeds creativity, and we know that ideas build businesses.
3. Finding a father
Nietzsche famously said, “Whoever does not have a good father should procure one.” Nietzsche's own father, a Lutheran minister, died when he was five years old, yet he had a profound effect on his life. Only the son of a preacher could hate religion with the fervor that Nietzsche brought. But, for entrepreneurs, the “father” is interchangeable with a mentor. Businesses are not easy to run, particularly for the creative types. Often, they succeed because executives seek a mentor or even hire a coach.
4. Future, present, past
Nietzsche believed that “the future influences the present as much as the past.” It is one thing to look to the past to find problems a business can solve. It is quite another to develop a plan to correct those problems. Understanding and being able to articulate your personal and business goals is often cited as a key to success. Visibility about markets and customers is essential. Understanding where you want to be helps you to make the right decisions now.
5. Getting stronger
There is a probably no more cited quote of Nietzsche (often misquoted, actually) as this, also from Twilight of the Idols: “Out of life's school of war: What does not kill me makes me stronger.” (Yes, it was Nietzsche, not Kelly Clarkson.) Business leaders learn from their mistakes. Often, the larger the blunder, the more experience one gains. Also, getting knocked down by a competitor, or engaging in a battle with business partners, focuses the mind on revenge -- in a constructive way, of course. Failure and losing can lead to valuable soul-searching and victories in the future.
Ray Hennessey is the former editorial director of Entrepreneur.