Entreprenuers as Extremophiles

According to Google no one has yet to make a correlation between entrepreneurs and extremophiles. As a matter of fact, a search of the term turns up only 289,000 results. This strikes me as surprising. But then, most people don’t understand what makes the heart of entrepreneurs tick much less what an extremophile is.

Weird Life by David ToomeyAfter reading a NY Times book review of the recently published Weird Life by David Toomey (a book that delves into the little-understood life of microbes that live in the most extreme environments on the planet), the only thing that kept popping up in my mind as I learned more and more about these micro organisms (called extremophiles), is their similarity to entrepreneurs.

Wikepedia defines extremophiles as coming from “the Latin extremus meaning “extreme” and Greek philiā (φιλία) meaning “love”.”

Extreme love.

Who better understands extreme love than entrepreneurs who sacrifice money, comfort, relationships, careers, financial stability and sometimes life itself for the extreme love of their outrageous dreams, their businesses and their relentless desire to change the world?

As the mystery of these micro organinisms unfolded before me, the correlation between extremophiles and entrepreneurs became forever entwined in my mind:

An extremophile “is an organism that thrives in physically or geochemically extreme conditions that are detrimental to most life on Earth.” — Wikepedia

“Some micro-organisms thrive in boiling water under pressure; others feed on sulfur, salt, deadly poisonous elements, even radioactivity. Toomey describes one fungus found in the “water core of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, ingeniously and fearlessly converting nuclear radiation into usable energy and managing radiation damage by keeping copies of the same chromosome in every cell.” “Extremophiles” can be found living in ice, under the sea floor, multiplying in clouds or huddled implausibly deep beneath the ground in a newly discovered geological biosphere. These tiny cells — a pinhead would be a world to them — do not look particularly spectacular. Most of them are just minute rods that grow by fission. But they are chemical factories of extraordinary versatility.” — NY Times book review,

Extremophiles, in all their exotic glory, sound like the stuff of great science fiction. Likewise, entrepreneurs are more closely related to sci-fi aliens traveling the universe, millions of light years in extreme circumstances, in search of new opportunities and ways to assert their presence, than ordinary human beings who happily accept and live within the limitations that life, society and family place on them.

But what makes entrepreneurs the macro version of extremophiles is their ability, passion and thirst to thrive in the extreme crevices of life in this world (uncertainty, constant criticism, financial despair, self-doubt, fear, failure) when the rest of humanity has the good sense to work at all costs to avoid these painful extremes.  Whereas life tests the limitations of the average person, the entrepreneur (like extremophiles) tests the limitations of life — and they get off on it.

Alas, here is Dictionary.com’s definition of “entrepreneur”:

Entrepreneur: a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.

I propose the following revised definition that more accurately explains these odd creatures and their behavior:

Entrepreneur: a person who exhibits extreme love and passion to change the world through creating and managing an enterprise or business and thrives in psychological, emotional and social extreme conditions that are detrimental to most human beings on Earth;  they are creative factories of extraordinary versatility.

My definition may not be entirely spot-on, but it comes far closer to defining an entrepreneur than standard dictionaries do today. Maybe, in this startup-innovation world economy we’re in, it’s time to put entrepreneurs under a microscope to understand what they are and just how they manage to survive and to achieve the impossible in extreme circumstances with extreme passion.

Full Disclosure: I am an entrepreneur.


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