Why do you want to be a millionaire?

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The “Motley Fool” recently published a poll asking: “Why do you want to be a millionaire?” With over 10,000 people voting, 20% answered: “So I can make a difference in this world.” This was one of the most popular reasons, second only to “So I can be financially secure.”

It definitely makes one wonder at the mental models we’ve created for ourselves (or “mental prisons,” as John calls them). People tend to see “making a difference” as something linear — make one’s fortune first, then start a foundation a la Bill Gates or Jeff Skoll. And while that’s certainly one model that’s generating much good and impact in this world, that’s certainly not the only one.

My friend, Chris Miller, reads the Motley Fool poll as an incredible entrepreneurial opportunity in international development. I couldn’t agree more! As he points out, the question is, how can all these people be given an opportunity to make a difference in a way they will respond to?

Being here in India has helped me realize that one of the greatest barriers to scaling up is NOT lack of money. The money is there, just waiting to back up incredible ideas that will change the world. Rather, some of the greatest barriers I see is talent, especially as an organization scales up. In social enterprises, there is an assumption that the entrepreneur and management are motivated by more than just money. But for the ayah or receptionist, a job at a social enterprise often becomes like any other job — a means to feed her family.

Or for would-be social entrepreneurs, perhaps the greatest barrier is something more intrinsic. It’s like the sign that hangs in LifeSpring’s corporate office: “The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure.”

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2 Responses to “Why do you want to be a millionaire?”

  1. Balaji Sundararajan Says:

    Very well said. To add to this, for people who have the power (both knowledge, ‘authority’) are locked in their mental prisons.

    For instance, people who study medicine has a great chance to do research, service fellow humans AND earn money as well. But how do we select them in the first place? mere academic credentials.

    We fail to check about their mental makup to see whether they are service oriented, whether they have a passion towards medical service, their motivation levels etc. Then we end up with Drs who help kidney rackets and stuff as any other criminal would do.

    Same thing applies to several of the courses and positions we offer.

  2. Premal Says:

    While I agree this is one interpretation about “making a fortune first and then starting to help others” and hence the conclusion that this is linear thinking.

    The other more common interpretation that I have heard is as follows: “If I did not have to work for earning bread and butter, I would be rather working to make a difference in other people’s lives”. Now this view does not preclude them from making a difference in other people’s lives as they work towards their million(s) but that question has not been asked and hence not answered!

    Nevertheless, I am an optimist and I feel if this is the second most important reason for folks to become millionaires, I really wish that there be many more millionaires that will bring in not only their funds to work but also themselves – “human capital” is as important as money.

    Good post, thanks for sharing this.

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