History of the Club, Part 2

Dreamers and accountants — they say that both types of people are necessary for a great business. One without the other is a dead end. Together, the magic can happen. And the magic is certainly happening at the Spy Briefing Club, now celebrating what Doug Hill calls its one-month-iversary (I’m pretty sure that is a neologism) with a level of success that has lifted everyone’s spirits.

Am I surprised? Not entirely. Everything seems inevitable in retrospect. We had put months of careful thought into what people really need in these times of growing government tyranny. We can’t just throw in the towel. We can’t just submit to unrelenting abuse. We can’t just stand by and let government dismantle civilization piece by piece.

Frank Chodorov wrote that we must first will freedom in order to achieve it. That requires reading, learning, communicating, sharing ideas and growing intellectually — all with an eye toward the practical results of living freer, smarter lives. This is the vision, the dream, the hope. The Club embeds that dream in a practical and generous solution within a commercial context.

We are hardly the first people in history who have faced this problem, and we are joined by people all over the world who are struggling to throw off the anachronism of the invasive state. There is nothing more ridiculous, in a digital age, than the belief that millions of bureaucrats in a far distant capital city can protect us, plan our lives, manipulate economic outcomes, redistribute the wealth and bring justice to the world.

Fewer and fewer people believe in this system anymore. The failures of despotism surround us, as does the evidence of the success of freedom and the capacity of societies to form and manage themselves. We only need to learn to see these truths, understand them and use the freedoms we have to build institutions that help us gain more freedom, one step at a time.

And think of all the advantages we have that previous generations did not have. We have centuries of scholarship, amazing new tools for communicating and getting to know each other, the technology of real-time contact between individuals all over the world. These are tools that have been granted unto this generation, right now, in our times — tools that seemed like science fiction only a decade ago.

Even with all these advantages, every act of entrepreneurship is a leap into the unknown. People who like stories of successful businesses fail to appreciate this. In retrospect, every success seems inevitable, just a matter of going through the paces. Data of history always look this way, like the unfolding of a coherent story with a beginning, middle and end.

In the thick of the building process (which never ends!), however, the future is uncertain and the results unknown. As if in a dark room, you use whatever signals you have to find your way forward. It requires a combination of intuition, attention to accounting data, wise judgment, careful monitoring of consumer feedback. The risks are always present, and the failure rate is extremely high. It is always an uphill struggle, especially in these times, when the whole of leviathan seems to conspire against success.

Many scholars have written about that special cast of mind that characterizes entrepreneurship, scholars such as Ludwig von Mises, Joseph Schumpeter and Israel Kirzner. Entrepreneurship requires the imagination to see that the world can be different from what it is today, to believe that new knowledge can emerge and be acted upon in a manner that shifts the given reality into something better.

This is a rare cast of mind even for individuals. It is especially difficult to embed this outlook in an institution like a business firm. It is an outlook that is cultivated through outstanding and imaginative leadership, attentive and accomplished employees at all levels, a widespread tolerance for living with risk and uncertainty and a culture of adaptability and flexibility that is pervasive throughout an organization.

This is true whether the business is tiny or gigantic, the lemonade stand or multinational conglomerate. Every business faces the same unknowns. Tomorrow is a blank page. For those who want to see beautiful images appear, there can be no rest. They must have that hunger for the new, and the ability to live with the belief that the answer is out there but has not yet revealed itself. In this sense, an entrepreneurial firm lives on faith. There is no infallible formula for making it work.

These features are completely absent in government bureaucracy. Bureaucracies see only what exists and are unprepared for change. They want stability and conformity. They certainly cannot and will not lead that change. This is why government is not in a position to keep up with our times, much less manage them. This is why societies that are dominated by bureaucracies dry up and die.

I think about this often as I look back to the formative days of the Club. I watched and learned as people at Agora Financial brought ideas to the table. Every bit of evidence and experience for or against any idea flowed freely and openly. Criticism flowed as freely and compliments, disagreement was as welcome as agreement. People listened, contributed, learned, and the model emerged in fits and starts, at first slowly and then at a quickening pace until it all fell into place.

The Spy Briefing Club would indeed be something entirely new. It would be rooted in the deepest desire of humankind to discover and thrive — even in hard times — but use tools that are only now on the table. There was no mastermind behind the plan; everyone contributed, and the result was something no one expected. The whole was bigger than the sum of the parts.

Forgive me for being a bit dreamy about this whole project. Working with Club staff yesterday, I sat and recorded a series of videos in which I discussed many books, one by one, that have had a gigantic impact on my life and experienced that great pleasure that comes with sharing knowledge of things one truly loves. I kept thinking to myself, “I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”

The unity of great ideas and the commercial spirit — here are the things that make life dramatic and exciting. Poets of old wrote of battles and wars, of kings and their exploits, as if these were the things that shape history. It’s not true. The best that history offers humanity is shaped by the producers and the entrepreneurs who serve others in peace through creativity. In this sense, the Spy Briefing Club is making history in our times.

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