Three Business Fears

Posted On: November 30

I have just returned from a trip to Kraków, Poland where I was invited by the US Consulate to be the keynote speaker at the Polish American Innovation Bridge event. I also had the opportunity to give a speech at the Polytechnic Institute. I found the Polish entrepreneurs I met to be very energetic, enthusiastic and passionate about building businesses. However, there was one theme that ran through all of the comments and questions which was, “What happens if I fail?” There seemed to be an overwhelming fear of failure across the groups I spoke with. The event organizers asked me to focus on two special areas, how to handle failure and how to successfully network with other entrepreneurs and business people. It also seems that the current Polish entrepreneurial culture does not support the idea of win/win networking. Many of the students and entrepreneurs I talked to were very worried about sharing their ideas with anyone else and did not believe that other entrepreneurs in their community would be willing to help them, so in large part, they decided to go it alone.

Earlier this year I spent a good deal of time in Australia and New Zealand working with business people and entrepreneurs there. I find it fascinating that they had almost the opposite fear: the fear of success. There is a saying that they have in Australia and New Zealand, “The tall poppy syndrome.” If you, like a poppy, grow too tall compared to the rest of the poppies, they cut you down to size. In these cultures, if you are too successful it agitates the people around you who are not as successful and you are put under a great deal of peer pressure to conform to the societal norms of not sticking out. The question I kept getting in Australia and New Zealand was, “How do you think so big in America?” They just couldn’t understand the idea of wanting to grow a billion-dollar company or the desire to be hugely successful, and said that in their business culture colleagues often tried to keep you in a more “reasonable” frame of mind when talking about business growth.

Let me be very clear, I was extremely impressed in Poland, Australia and New Zealand with the very bright and talented entrepreneurs I met. They were curious and wanted to find out how to improve themselves and their businesses. And not everyone I met fits in the categories I mentioned above, but I did find it interesting to see the stark differences in the different cultures. What’s even more fascinating is that I have run into all of the same issues working with entrepreneurs in America. They are fearful of failure, afraid to be too successful and reluctant to share their ideas and ask for help from the other entrepreneurs and business owners around them.

So my question to you is, do you suffer from any of these three entrepreneurial fears?

I look forward to your thoughts – John

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  1. Yes, so many of us have all of these fears. We were told by our parents that we must be successful to be contributing members of society. As soon as we bought a new car, or any other trapping of success, we were told we were too big for our britches, or were living high on the hog. With such opposing messages, of course we have fears: of success, of failure, and probably of getting lost somewhere in the middle! Once we learn what being a good person feels like to ourselves, we can push away our childhood messages, and do our best for our children and our employees.

  2. I am a wantraprenuer, I have an idea that I want to make a business but do not know how to make it a business. How do you know if you share an idea with someone that they will take it. My fear is not knowing where to get started and who to trust.

    1. Of course you need to do your due diligence, ask lots of questions and test out the person you’re talking to in order to see if you feel like you can trust them. Also, if your idea is unique, different and compelling – and difficult if not impossible to copy – and you have unique skills or abilities to deliver it to the marketplace… then it doesn’t matter if you share with other people because they will not be able to take it to market better than you. Lastly, I have found out that most people are lazy and even if you tell them exactly what you’re planning they do not have the energy, passion or contacts to try to steal your idea. With all that said, you can also have them sign nondisclosures – and just be very, very careful about who you share your ideas with. I hope you found this helpful – John

  3. Strangely, I don’t really fear any of those particular things, but I do have fears. When I first started NS4L, I had no fear. I jumped head first into something I didn’t know anything about and just figured it out along the way. Failed plenty of times, but each failure obviously made me stronger and more successful.

    Now, as business grows and I feel responsible for 30 team members, I don’t necessarily ‘fear’ failure of my decisions, but I certainly calculate risk more and don’t make those quick ‘let’s just see what happens’ decisions I used to.

    I would say the greatest fear I have is being taken from this Earth before I have had the opportunity to make the impact I want to have on it. I don’t fear death itself. I fear time.

    1. Collin, what a wonderful and thoughtful reply. I agree with your first comment strongly from personal experience. When the business is completely mine and I don’t have any employees I don’t fear failure at all. But when I have a lot of employees that count on me and the company to support their families – my only fear is in letting them down and putting them in a bad position if I have to lay them off. I enjoy being successful in business, but my greatest joy is using that success to support other people. I also share your second fear – I think any of us who have a passion for what we do – and a desire to help other people – likely share a similar fear. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts – John

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