In his most recent National Geographic magazine article [September edition] entitled “Kinshasa, Urban Pulse of the Congo“, the author and photographer, Robert Draper, wrote that Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is a “marvel of dysfunction”. A local author Lye Yoka that he interviewed quipped that “Kinshasa is a city where students do not study, workers do not work, and ministers do not administrate”. Bribery and extortion are the key government funding mechanisms of choice. In summation, Kinshasa governance is basically controlled chaos for a population of ten million residents.
So what does work in this mind-boggling dysfunctional system? Mr. Draper concludes that the “miracle’ of Kinshasa is that it is full of “compulsive entrepreneurs” who make it work despite little government or authority to govern. How do they do it? According to those he interviewed, the underlying strengths of Kinshasa entrepreneurs are their “creativity, improvisation, and passion”. He concludes that “this is a city of frenzied entrepreneurship, where everyone is a salesman of whatever merchandise comes along, an uncertified specialist – self employed, self styled – a creator amid chaos, an artist in a shed”.
So is this true entrepreneurship in Kinshasa – or rather desperate people doing desperate things, in a desperate place, and what can we learn from it? In the book “The Illusions of Entrepreneurship”, the author – Professor Scott Shane – provides significant entrepreneurship research in America that debunks many commonly held myths that are important to correct first. Some highlights, generally speaking, are as follows:
1. The typical entrepreneur in America is not young and special. He is middle-aged person just trying to make a living.
2. Psychological factors are not significantly different from an entrepreneur and a salaried employee other than that they didn’t want to work for someone else.
3. Starting a new business is based more on what you know rather than who you know. The highest ranked centers for entrepreneurs is not places like Cambridge Massachusetts or Silicon Valley, CA but instead its Vermont.
4. The majority of entrepreneurs are wrong about how to run a business so it is better not to follow a new business. But they often get better. Starting a company is not linear but rather evolves over time.
5. Over half of new businesses are a one-person operation that offer the same product or service that is already in existence so there is no competitive advantage. Many entrepreneurs do fail – but many become successful as well.
Many entrepreneurs in America tend to lament that “if I just had more funding, I could be successful”. But taking a page out of the Kinshasa entrepreneurs book, they may be better served by starting with their own “creativity, improvisation, and passion” skills to drive their business growth. Why? Creativity, improvisation, and passion are start-up resources that you don’t need to reach for outside, you simply need to reach inside yourself. How? As the old adage goes, “if you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”.