The Poetry of Entrepreneurship

A well rounded education, formal or informal, is necessary for the success of any entrepreneur. The internet is replete with quotes relevant to the entrepreneur. But the world has offered much more, oh so much more, to the inquisitive mind. Yes, Malcom Gladwell has interesting insights, a look into Steve Job’s life might be beneficial, and maybe you can really learn to work for only four hours a week.

But all of this misses the power of words that connect with you emotionally, at a deep level. The spirit must receive the same nourishment as the mind and body, and what better than the world’s leading poets to provide such nourishment? Who better to capture the spirit of the challenge, the journey, that is an entrepreneur?

In this post I will review three of the more well known poems to whet your appetite, with only a short commentary. I believe that the best interpretation is your own. For those of you already well versed in, well, verse, I apologise if I have wasted your time. For everyone else, I hope you approach this with an open mind, I think you will find it interesting, if not fulfilling.

The first poem of entrepreneurship that I wish to present is Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven by William Butler Yeats. This poem reminds me of the emotions that come with pitching your ideas to an investor or a boss. Your dreams, the vision that you have, are all that you own at the onset of the entrepreneurial journey and as such they are the only, and most precious, possessions that you have.

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light, 

I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

The poem is not, of course, about an entrepreneur, but that does not stop its powerful words from evoking the emotional anxiety and vulnerability in opening up to someone with your innermost vision. Scary stuff.

The next poem, a little longer and better known, speaks to the character of an entrepreneur. The poem is If- by Rudyard Kipling, and almost every verse covers a different facet of entrepreneurship. In particular, the poem masterfully presents the balance between extremes, a balance that entrepreneurs face everyday.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!” 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son.

The last poem is from one of my favourite authors, George Bernard Shaw. One of the defining characteristics of success, be it in entrepreneurship or in any other human endeavor, is the ability to overcome shattering defeat. Shaw gives us the greatest inspiration to picking yourself up, dusting yourself off and starting again in his poem A New Start.

I have wiped the slate clean,
No more reminders from the past.
Memories of what I have been,
Have vanished at long last.
I look forward to my future new,
Where all is territory strange.
Soon I will be among the few,
That plans their life at long range.
I see my life laid out at my feet,
New friends shall rally at my call.
They will be the first I will greet,
At this my welcoming ball.
Soon all memories will depart,
Of a past left well behind.
I will get off to a new start,
With the best of mankind.

Life, even a professional life, and success, even financial success, is more than focussing on a narrow facet of the world. Poetry can soothe your wounds, touch your heart, strengthen your resolve, expand your mind and raise your spirit.

I hope this little detour from this blog’s usual cut and thrust of mathematical finance and ill disguised satire inspired you in some small measure.

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