How (and Why) ESOs Distract You With BS That Doesn’t Matter

I’ve worked in the entrepreneurship support space for many years so I’ve been to my fair share of workshops, conferences, and roundtables with economic development professionals and one of the most frustrating aspects of these get-togethers for me has always been the desire of some to spend an inordinate amount of time discussing useless crap that doesn’t matter at all. 

Let me give you one example: I’ve spent many more hours than I care to admit in rooms discussing the issues with the term entrepreneur vs. the term business owner. Some were concerned about the lack of precision in defining what the two terms mean and how they differ. Some were concerned with how one term or the other may attract or repel certain types of [wait, OMG, should I use “entrepreneurs” or “business owners” here?] from the services being offered. Some were concerned that one term or the other might be either elitist or condescending.

Who the heck cares which term is used? Do I think there is a difference in what each term means? Yes. Do I think every potential client, partner, or funder will share my definitions? No. Do I care? Not really.

We’re talking about business ownership here, something that is one of the most effective paths to wealth creation for minority households but also where we have not been able to shrink the gap in white male performance vs. minority and/or female performance in 3 decades.

When we bring a bunch of leaders together to talk about how we can help, I want to talk about how we can help, not talk about which term is most PC or my clients most identify with. This is entrepreneurship – it’s a tough, stressful roller-coaster ride that requires a thick skin and perseverance. If someone chooses not to get help because I said I have an entrepreneurship class vs. a small business class; fine.

I’d love to leave one of these conferences having discussed best practices in curriculum design, coaching techniques, or resource development. Instead, I spend most of my time at these things talking about whose feelings have been hurt by what phrase someone else used to describe something and this is partly why all of these economic development professionals don’t seem to be able to have an impact.

So why do entrepreneurship support organizations (ESOs) do this? Because it distracts from the fact that they’re not having the impact they’ve promised and that they may have some great “success stories” to share but they don’t have any statistically significant data to show that their interventions make any difference. It’s the classic magician’s misdirect. It’s much easier to discuss what term we should use than to figure out why the program they’ve been offering for the last decade hasn’t improved small business survival rates in the community they serve, so they pull your attention over to the inconsequential stuff in hopes you’ll continue to write those grant checks. Either that or they don’t realize the conversation is a waste of time. You can take your pick on which is worse.

That was my rant for the day; thanks for sticking with me until the end!

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