More than four decades after her death, the author of the popular novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead is still one of the most divisive public intellectuals.
On one hand, her position of defending rational selfishness and attack on altruism (sacrifice of personal values for the good of others) puts her at odds with the modern understanding of corporate social responsibility and the commitment of a lot of founders to create value for all public stakeholders, rather than focusing narrowly on the shareholders of the company, embodied in the growing popularity of the benefit corp.
On the other, her focus on rationality, self-sufficiency, and the pursuit of excellence and personal achievement means that most objectivist values fit very well with the reality that most tech startup founders experience.
This contradiction leads to a situation in which in public the “acceptable” stance on Ayn Rand is to ignore or deride her. Yet, in private a lot of people in the startup world are fans of her fiction and her basic philosophical principles, as Will Storr describes in his excellent book “Selfie”.
Below, you’ll find three ways objectivist principles can be productive for startup founders.
1. Metaphysics: Objective Reality; Epistemology: Reason
“You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality.” – Ayn Rand
“Embrace reality and deal with it” is without a doubt one of the most important decision-making principles for startup founders. While it sounds like common sense, it’s much harder to stick to than it seems. After all, we are masters at self-deception.
Yet, in a startup context, it is crucial to try to objectively evaluate reality and act accordingly regardless of your ego because failing to do so has only one possible outcome – a failure for your project.
The best approach to achieve this is to treat your project as a scientific experiment – to employ rationality and empiricism in the form of strategizing, running validation tests, and evaluating your results through KPIs in order to achieve your goals.
2. The Pursuit of Personal Happiness
“My happiness is not the means to any end. It is the end. It is its own goal. It is its own purpose.” – Ayn Rand
As a startup founder, it can be easy to get caught up in the expectations and demands of investors, employees, customers, and even friends and family. However, by embracing the principle of the primacy of the pursuit of personal happiness, you can more easily put things into perspective and avoid falling into the trap of advancing your project at the cost of your mental health.
Your project, after all, is a means to an end, not a cause that requires martyrdom.
3. The Pursuit of Excellence and Achievement
“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach.” – Ayn Rand
By embracing objectivism’s emphasis on achievement, startup founders can push themselves to strive for the best possible outcomes. This can help to create a culture of excellence within the startup, which can be essential for attracting and retaining top talent and building a strong brand reputation.
In summary – don’t be ashamed if you derive value from the writings and thoughts of Ayn Rand just because she is divisive. The world is not black or white – even if some of your values and premises differ from hers, this doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from her wisdom.