The “Lemonade Stand” Fallacy

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Ryan Chacon (@ryanchacon) and Ben Bunk (@superawesomeben) are the brilliant minds behind stupil.com. This piece was republished from his blog.

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Have you ever read an article about a successful entrepreneur? Whether millionaire/billionaire or just the next hot start-up? Seems like every article mentions the “entrepreneurial spirit” that the now successful entrepreneur had when he was young. The author refers to a lemonade stand, or maybe they sold candy at school, or newspapers in the neighborhood, etc. The author foreshadows the current success by saying; “They knew he was going to be successful because at a very young age he had his own lemonade stand.”  Give me a break.  Every child at some point had a “lemonade stand” of some sort, but that does not mean every child grows up to be a successful entrepreneur. Kids at that age do it because they think it will be fun to color and hit things with a hammer to make signs, yell and scream to attract customers, and make a little money to put in their piggy bank–nothing more.  Example A) a friend of mine used to have her own school store when she was 8.  She would buy school supplies with her own money…and then sell them for less at her own “store.”  Genius.

To say that a person is successful now because he/she displayed “entrepreneurial characteristics” when he/she was young is a stretch. What exactly are the specific “entrepreneurial characteristics” that must be displayed at a young age to make you successful later in life? Risk-taking? Persistence? Confidence? Creativity? Passion? A strong work ethic? These are children we are talking about. They are not risking anything; they are not putting off college or a job offer or risking financial stability to start a business. They are persistent and confident because they do not know any better and their parents are helping them along the way. Kids have a very obsessive personality; they get this idea in their mind and stick to it until they get bored–in a day or two.

Journalists should stop stereotyping the “lemonade stand” characteristic.  There is no characteristic that foreshadows success. There are no specific “entrepreneurial characteristics” that any one person must have once shown to be successful. True, you cannot be the laziest person in the world and expect to achieve something substantial without putting in the work.  There are confident people who are successful, and confident people who are not successful. There are creative and passionate people who are successful and some who are not.  It is wrong to categorize successful people as having certain traits and imply that in order to be successful you must also have these qualities. This causes people to try to display these characteristics with the mindset that being one way creates greatness…and thus stop being themselves. With this delusion they start to venture away from the person they are and end up sacrificing the greatness that they already possess.  For example, they may sacrifice natural creativity for forced determination, when creativity was their strong suit that would have given them the best chance of success.

When writers place stereotypes on entrepreneurs it creates a delusional persona for people who want to start their own businesses.  Who is to say what makes someone successful? Who is to say at what age you can start a business and become an entrepreneur? There is no expiration date on potential success; if anyone tries to tell you otherwise he/she is wrong.  The sooner we stop typecasting entrepreneurs and start embracing diversity in successful entrepreneurs, the sooner we can begin to instill confidence in other potential entrepreneurs. When this starts, I truly believe great things will come of it and we will begin to see a rise in innovation unlike any other–and along with it, the rise of a different kind of entrepreneur.

Pic by  amy.gizienski on Flickr (cc)