The 1st Industrial Revolution was born from the advent of the steam engine, which introduced the might and potential of coal-powered energy in the 18th century. As we continue to progress in immense and drastic manners, we can reflect upon each industrial revolution and their subsequent cultural, societal, and economic waves. Presently, we find ourselves in the age of intelligent technology rippling through society with the 4th Industrial Revolution––otherwise known as Industry 4.0. This era of change exists alongside increasingly polarized politics, not to mention the COVID-19 pandemic, which has illuminated mass cultural movements around the world. As we navigate our digitally globalized world, we must further take into consideration how COVID has shifted the rules by which companies must play. To target the societal gaps the pandemic has uncovered, a revolution is required, one that centers a humane form of entrepreneurship.
Necessity is the mother of innovation, and the events of 2020 have exposed drastic inequalities throughout society. Voids in our societal structure have caused a global reckoning addressing faults in our foundational institutions, as our current systems propagate racial injustice, climate change, and income inequality. Righting these societal wrongs requires economic systems that are guided by ethics and empathy rather than individual interests. Upholding these humane systems is a challenge for post-COVID era entrepreneurs to overcome, and it is in easing this transition that we will create space for an entrepreneurial revolution. This area increases with each business that embeds sustainability, cooperation over competitiveness, and leading humanity forward into their foundation.
In recreating rather than reforming, the entrepreneurial revolution will allow businesses to more fully respond to changing consumer dynamics. As we move towards a more inclusive and sustainable society, our institutions must actively do the same. Traditional consumerism operates from a social contract, where companies agree to address customer needs in exchange for capital. Capitalist economic models are built off these contracts so when they are amended, opportunity to change for the better presents itself. For example, looking at car consumer trends, bigger is no longer better. Gas-guzzling, large SUVs are being exchanged in favor of electric vehicles, and car companies are adjusting to meet these demands. When the definition of what society needs changes, these social contracts must also follow suit.
Human-centered entrepreneurship forces us to consider what we have historically forgotten. For change to occur in the wake of the climate era, companies will have to forego their sense of competition in favor of cross-industry cooperation. For instance, the Climate Pledge is a commitment co-founded by Amazon and Global Optimism, which aims for zero net-carbon emissions by 2040 and has the support of 105 signatories across 25 industries in 16 different countries (The Climate Pledge). Rather than using competition to fuel innovation, cooperation will ensure that individual enterprises are holding up their end of the bargain, ultimately benefiting both company and consumer. As industry values evolve, businesses that do not follow suit nor embed these values into their foundation will suffer.
Cultural, societal and economic waves shaped by COVID are creating windows of opportunity for entrepreneurs to form businesses that are solutions-oriented and targeting societal gaps. Ultimately, successful business leaders within Industry 4.0 will alter their products and services so they can appeal to a more inclusive customer base. Since customer trends are moving towards services and products that better the world, success must go beyond the bottom line, instead incorporating empathy, ethics, and sustainability into a company’s ROI metrics. Therefore, efficiency will be determined by healthy foundations within these organizations. Building out these infrastructures with intention will bring into focus the value of healthy work environments, where an ecosystem of innovation and empathy can flourish. Improving our current systems in place requires a humane form of entrepreneurship, and self-starters that adopt this framework are set to be the business titans of tomorrow.
The Climate Pledge. “Net Zero Carbon by 2040.” The Climate Pledge | About. 2020. Web. 30 Aug. 2021. https://www.theclimatepledge.com/us/en/about.