Tuesday, December 23, 2014

What: Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol” (in the public domain, originally published in 1843)

Why: More than just a feel-good story, this classic holiday tale offers insights into what motivates the entrepreneurial spirit.

This time of year, we are bombarded with seemingly numberless versions of this classic Christmas tale. Indeed, this story is the stuff of many an entrepreneurial venture in the entertainment industry—in the film industry alone, everything from The Muppet Christmas Carol (a personal favorite) to Scrooge to Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.

Few people know that the story is itself an entrepreneurial work product. Dickens was reeling from the commercial failure of his novel Martin Chuzzlewit (You’ve heard of it, right? Yeah, neither had I.)  His wife was once again pregnant and he needed cash fast. Putting pen to paper, he completed the manuscript in less than six weeks and, declining a lump-sum payment from his publisher, covered the publication costs himself in hopes of reaping a huge profit from sales. Sadly, the work was not an immediate commercial success.

It isn’t surprising, then, that nuggets here and there in the story reveal his views on the entrepreneurial life in general and his personal struggles with entrepreneurism in particular. For example, turn to the scene where the Ghost of Christmas Past forces Scrooge to revisit his last meeting with Belle, the love of his young life.

Belle expresses her sense that Scrooge has changed, that he has become too much concerned with money and material things. Out of Scrooge’s mouth comes the following response: “There is nothing on which [the world] is so hard as poverty; and there is nothing it professes to condemn with such severity as the pursuit of wealth.” Poor Scrooge. Stuck between a rock and a hard place.

But Belle understands his deeper motivation. “‘You fear the world too much,’ she answered gently. ‘All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach.' "

And so we see entrepreneurism as defense mechanism. Some food for thought this holiday season.

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