foodstuffs , crafts or perhaps even fine textiles . Merchants were a well-established part of Chinese social hierarchy from around 1000 bc at the latest , 500 years before Confucius , but evidence of either merchants or independent artisans before the Zhou dynasty is scant .
Continental Connective Tissue
Entrepreneurs developed independently , and in many forms , throughout America . The Chavín , dating from 850 to 200 bc , allowed self-directed industry and trading . The wealthy and sophisticated Chavín culture encompassed all of the Peruvian coast and the watershed of the central Andes . The archeological record from 500 bc on shows evidence of a wide assortment of pottery types and styles produced in many locations , all using different techniques and materials , making their way to the capital . The distribution of utilitarian ceramics points to Chavín rulers ’ encouragement of and reliance on entrepreneurial behavior centered in the surrounding towns and villages to provide residents with goods and diverse foodstuffs .
Mesoamerica also contains evidence of a system that relied on independent artisans and traders . From extensive studies of the Valley of Oaxaca , we know that villages specialized in producing certain types of goods , baskets , tools and foods by 200 ad . This production was located in and around individual homesteads with easy access to market plazas , which were connected to one another by roads . During this same period , Mayan rulers , like the pharaohs , controlled the production and trade of high-status objects such as jade and metals but left the production and trade of other items to individuals .
Farther north in central Mexico , an entrepreneurial golden age of both utilitarian and luxury goods flourished around 950 ad . A specific group of people , the pochteca , carried out all long-distance trade throughout the Triple Alliance , commonly referred to as the Aztecs . The pochteca were self-directed in how they negotiated and traded , but they had to pay taxes and satisfy the needs of the ruling elite in return for their monopoly position in long-distance trade .
This is normal , of course . Entrepreneurial activities are always subject to the constraints imposed on them by rulers and governments , and that was no different in the case of the pochteca . For example , a subgroup , the tlatoani , were expert in procuring slaves required for sacrifice and menial labor in large construction projects , while another subgroup , the tencunenenque , focused on procuring objects for the ruler to demonstrate power and prestige , as well as providing useful information about distant towns and tribes to rulers and military leaders .
During this time , both utilitarian and luxury goods were created by independent artisans , often working in specialized neighborhoods with workshops attached to their homes . Trade and political networks facilitated the transfer of goods over roads and waterways , enabling the expansion of production to supply local , regional and export consumption . Production and trade thrived during the Triple Alliance , and contemporary conquistador accounts marveled at the activity and breadth of products available in the markets when they arrived in 1521 ; “ more varied than a European city ” they wrote .
An Everywhere Behavior
Evidence exists throughout ancient history of entrepreneurial behavior that developed independently of any urbanization or social hierarchy . Hunter-gatherers practiced entrepreneurship to take control of their own future . The beads produced in Wadi Jilad required extensive effort , and far more were manufactured than the group could have wanted for themselves , or even for the purpose of lavish gifting . This excess production helped the group ensure their livelihood . The Cabezo Juré clan also expended immense effort in traveling thousands of miles looking for an ideal location to produce copper tools — they , too , wanted control .
The archaeological record proves that entrepreneurship eventually develops in all urban cultures throughout the world , while many systems develop in turn to control , restrict or encourage entrepreneurial behavior . The extent to which people can choose to make or collect desirable assets for themselves in exchange for performing specialized skills varies with the level of trust that develops between rulers and their citizenry .
The kings in Mesopotamia and the Aztec empire trusted a distinct class of entrepreneurs to oversee the trade that was essential to their power and legitimacy .
Whoever governed the city-states in the Indus Valley appears to have encouraged widespread entrepreneurial behavior in both the production of goods and trade .
Mayan , Egyptian and Chinese rulers controlled the distribution of prestigious goods and foodstuffs around their capitals but deferred to entrepreneurs to supply the commodities needed and wanted by more distant citizenry , or simply ignored them . Entrepreneurship eventually appears within every form of economy and every type of society , however it is controlled .
As entrepreneurship develops , it changes the societies in which it operates . It expands the breadth of the goods available as entrepreneurs work to improve their standard of living , which also improves the standard of living of the people they deal with . An essential by-product of entrepreneurship is that it forces change on its customers , not by physical force but by force of desire and consumption . Societies do not require entrepreneurs to exist , nor do entrepreneurs coerce rulers of city-states or kingdoms to let them operate — their legitimacy comes from satisfying desires that rulers cannot .
Entrepreneurship is a primal force that drives some people living in groups to expend huge amounts of energy and take risks to deliver products and services to others . As a force that shapes how societies operate and what they consume , it is clearly something we need to understand much better .
Derek Lidow is a professor at the Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education at Princeton University . He is the author of Startup Leadership : How Savvy Entrepreneurs Turn Their Ideas into Successful Enterprises ( 2014 ) and Building on Bedrock : What Sam Walton , Walt Disney , and Other Great Self-Made Entrepreneurs Can Teach Us About Building Valuable Companies ( 2018 ), as well as more than 100 articles on innovation , entrepreneurship and leadership .
This article has been adapted from The Entrepreneurs : The Relentless Quest for Value by Derek Lidow ( November 2022 ), published by Columbia Business School Publishing . Copyright © 2022 Derek Lidow . Used by arrangement with the Publisher . All rights reserved .
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