Shape the Future Series: Initiating – the essence of entrepreneurial action. What can we learn from the lesser known George Washington?

Shape the Future Series: Initiating – the essence of entrepreneurial action. What can we learn from the lesser known George Washington?

MEMORY 05In our previous Shape the Future post we outlined the attitude of alternative spotting and profiled Archimedes.   In this post we look at the attitude of initiating which forms part of the proactive mindset under the pillar of Personal Initiative.

The proactive mindset is all about being intentionally ahead of the process, anticipating the potential results in advance and taking action to either benefit from positive outcomes or reduce the possible negative outcomes.  We define the attitude of Initiating as taking the lead in bringing some new concept or idea into being.

While we are fully familiar with George Washington, the first president of the United States of America, we will look at the work of another slightly lesser known George Washington, as in George Washington Carver.  Not as internationally famous as the president with whom he shares a name, however, within the fields of science and agriculture world he would be considered just as equally famous.

It takes more than a good idea to initiate change.  Often, it requires an accompanying shift of mentality.  But it is possible for practices to be changed, usually through the pioneering individuals who not only have a good idea, but then can also implement it.

George Washington Carver was born in the late 1800’s and died in 1943.  Born into slavery in Missouri, his exact date of birth is unknown.  An unusual man for the times and circumstances of his birth, he was a scientist, botanist, educator, and inventor.   Carver was a fan of intellectual imagination and is often quoted as saying that, “Since new developments are the products of a creative mind, we must therefore stimulate and encourage that type of mind in every way possible.”

He was an individual who wished to help improve the standard of living for many destitute farmers in the American South.  This was realised through the implementation of a simple concept – crop rotation.  Different crops have different demands – each crop will deplete some types of nutrients from the soil, while giving back others.  Crop rotation alternates between crops with complementary nutrient demands, maintaining sustainable topsoil and producing a viable harvest.

In the South, this practice had not been adopted, and the dependence on cotton had depleted the soil of valuable nitrates.  Poor farmers, who could not afford fertilizers, were faced with smaller harvests each year and were becoming poorer.

The answer to this conundrum lay in crop rotating with legumes and peanuts.  It was the perfect crop to introduce to the South, despite the fact that there was almost no market for it at the time.  George Washing Carver solved this problem by what has become known as chemurgy which used chemistry to transform agricultural surplus into a variety of products and applications.  Furthermore, he helped create a market for these products and helped change agriculture in the South for the better.

While Carver could easily have allowed the circumstances of his birth to mould his outlook on life, he instead took great joy and comfort in taking the lead and bringing new concepts and ideas into being.  However, his primary motivation was not just the ideas and concepts into which he breathed life, but benefitting the Common Good and improving the lives of those around him.  A testament to his legacy were the words written on his tombstone: “He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world.”

What are the ideas or concepts that you will initiate as the hallmarks of your legacy?

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