I recently read a book called “Satisfaction: The Science of Finding True Fulfillment”. One of the interesting takeaways from the book was that the body releases dopamine (the chemical responsible for the feeling of satisfaction) not in response to the achievement of pleasurable activities, but rather in anticipation of pleasure. But routinely experienced pleasures erode their anticipatory trigger, thus leading to the belief that it is actually the novel, challenging path towards the completion of some pleasurable goal that releases the most dopamine. Satisfaction comes from handling the unknown.
Reading this, I started to understand the chemical underpinning of why I’m an entrepreneur. I’d always believed that people are either born entrepreneurs, or they are not. Some people enjoy the comfort of life’s material and physical pleasures, and others seem less able to find true satisfaction in a day at the beach.
But I would add another layer to the book’s thesis, at least as it applies to entrepreneurship: In addition to putting yourself in novel, challenging circumstances, having a positive mission orientation multiplies the sense of satisfaction – not only upon the achievement of the goal, but throughout the process of its achievement. Now there are many levels to positive mission orientation for a business. At some level, nearly all businesses have some degree of positive effect – even a chemical weapons manufacturer creates high-paying, secure jobs. But the societal cons outweigh the pros, leaving only the naked pursuit of business (monetary) success as the satisfaction driver. Thus the cap is set lower from the start, regardless of the eventual outcome.
To maximize this equation then, I’ve decided that I want to spend my limited number of swings in the business world building companies with what I’ve started to call ‘scalable positive mission potential’. Autumn Games had a partial kernel of this concept, and we told it often in the early days of launching the business. We believed that developers were often being taken advantage of by publishers – losing creative control of their franchises, not properly participating in the economics of their creations, and not properly getting credited for their work. Autumn was designed to be an “artist-friendly publisher”, and we hoped to create more interesting, and ultimately more lasting franchises as a result of our different model. And while the creation of this company ultimately led to the creation of a few hundred jobs over the years, the launch of three globally recognized franchises (including the awesome Skullgirls), and tens of millions of dollars in revenues, Autumn never had true scalable positive mission potential.
The Rise of the 1099 Economy
To my mind, what was originally called the Sharing Economy and has recently been more aptly renamed the 1099 Economy is the most interesting thing that’s happened on the employment front in a long time. People all over the world are trying to make ends meet in a new economic system. Gone are the pensions of our parents’ generation. And gone are the single-company careers. People switch jobs with greater and greater frequency, partially because the lifespan of companies today has been significantly compacted. Any many folks exist in some form of under-employment. They have a job, maybe even a “full-time” job, but it doesn’t pay all of the bills and they have plenty of free-time to work if the circumstances are right (eg. flexibility).
Into this mix, businesses like Etsy, Instacart, Uber, AirBnB, 99 Designs and countless others have sprouted. In their own way, each of them has made life better for people by empowering them to earn additional income in highly flexible ways. And they’ve done so at scale. Their impact is global and the lives that they touch number in the millions.
Add that type of scalable positive mission potential to the normal dopamine cannon that is entrepreneurship, and you’ve got a winning combination. Of course, there are no guarantees in life and in business, and the odds are always stacked heavily against any new idea, but if you want to be happy in life and you’ve made the crazy choice to pursue this goal through the windy road of entrepreneurship, then shouldn’t this type of mission orientation load the dice in favor of your real goals? I believe it does. And the goal of my next company is not going to be to create a few hundred jobs. We’re shooting for a few million. And even in the early days of that journey, I can already feel the dopamine flowing.