Opensourcing Failure

But what if I fail? - cartoon by gapingvoid

We Singaporeans can be quite an oxymoronic lot.  Our nation’s forefathers have given us a global city where East truly meets West in a melting pot of beliefs, values and ideals.  Our forefathers have toiled so that we could have our pick of the best from both worlds.  And so we investors and entrepreneurs choose, learning from the best that East and West has to offer, save one.

Like the western world, we have become quick to celebrate the successes of others and boast of our own.  Yet, at the same time, our upbringing and Asian inclination for ‘saving face’ have led us to avoid talking about our failures.

Don’t get me wrong – this post isn’t going to turn into yet another one of those me-toos advocating the celebration of failure.  As Miskeeto Bytes aptly puts, it is always far better to celebrate the passion that drives innovation and entrepreneurship.

And celebrate I will.  In the months ahead, I will be reaching out to investors and entrepreneurs that I know personally, to cajole them to share their failures (and passion) with us.  Through opensourcing our failures, I hope to shorten our learning curves, and more importantly elevate our collective mindsets.  I do this as a personal project – one that I am immensely passionate about – and hope that you will join me for the ride.

Just promise me you won’t laugh ;-).

As a significant example of the cultural difference, consider the subject of failure. In the U.S., one of the prevailing issues of entrepreneurship is that failure is not necessarily a ‘bad’ thing. Of course, no one wants to fail, but it is an important aspect of learning that allows an entrepreneur to be able to try again. Many successful entrepreneurs have experienced failure, both before and after success, only to try again. In some cultures, failure may brand an individual as incompetent, even a pariah. Who wants to bet, or risk money, on a failure, yet the concept of risk taking is a trait frequently associated with entrepreneurship (Lumpkin and Dess 1996).

By not accepting failure, and forcing an individual to be risk-averse, culture moderates an individual’s decision making when that individual is faced with unacceptable consequences that may determine the rate and process of entrepreneurial activity. Can this be changed? It is necessary to understand how culture affects entrepreneurial decisions, and examine how that culture may be altered to afford entrepreneurs the environment and resources that they need to be successful.

The individualism/collectivism continuum, referenced by Hofstede (1980) and later by Triandis (1988), plays a major role in identifying a culture’s propensity to entrepreneurship. Hofstede (1980) indicated a relationship between individualism and economic development. Individualist cultures foster development of self-concept, a sense of responsibility, and competition that may lead to new ideas and innovations. Collectivist environments may actually be anti-entrepreneurial by causing acceptance of norms, compromise, and resistance to change (Morris et al 1994). Even in an individualistic society, national culture may be moderated by an organizational culture that imposes collectivist constraints on members, possibly explaining why individuals leave such a collectivist culture to be entrepreneurs, for collective orientation inhibits entrepreneurship (Morris et al 1994). Gupta et al (2004), using GLOBE data, found that overall the entrepreneurial leader construct is related to Hofstede’s (1980) cultural dimensions in predictable ways. They also found that certain clusters (Anglo, Nordic, and Germanic) scored higher on entrepreneurial leadership than others, such as high power distance cultures (Middle Eastern and Confucian). This is a clear indication that ‘emic’ aspects of a national culture establish a societal structure that is either favorable or detrimental to entrepreneurship. An organization or firm in one culture may attempt, and be able, to model itself after a firm in another culture, but the individuals that make up the firm may still exhibit culturally specific behaviors. Yet, if entrepreneurship has any universal functions, such as generating innovation and leveraging resources, Tiessen (1997) asserts that these are achieved through culturally specific means as culture influences both innovation and resource leverage.

The above excerpt was taken from “Cultural Effects on Entrepreneurial Decision-Making: Why Every Society Can’t Be Entrepreneurial“, by Morris Samit of Florida Atlantic University.

About James Chan

James Chan is an entrepreneur, investor, geek, photographer and husband/father based out of Singapore. Apart from frequent travels to Vietnam, Myanmar and Indonesia for work, James can also be found online via his trusty 15" Retina MacBook Pro or iPhone 6+.