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