StartUps: Fear of failure prevents innovation


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Germany has a corporate and anti-founding mentality. And straight Pleitiers are always the bad guys. This is also reflected in the handling of errors. Unfortunately, this also avoids innovations.

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The startup mentality of the series founders

Germany would like more founders, startups are always a hot topic, especially in the self-proclaimed startup capital Berlin. At the same time, setting up a business is at least as difficult a topic in Germany. Why is it like this and what would have to be different so that more disruptive start-ups emerge here as well?

I read one a while ago Article in the FAZ about the start-up mentality in general and the Samwer brothers in particular. The heading “No time for late bloomers” actually sums up what author Bettina Weiguny wants to tell us:

How is business start-up in Germany normally?

People with such a start-up mentality as the Samwers set up companies like on the assembly line. It's called the founder of the series, and they start online marketplaces, apps or other ideas. The donors - and with them the infrastructure - are already ready.

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This contradicts pretty much every idea that one has in Germany of starting a business, because it is usually more “well-mannered”: It is mostly about business plans, financing, legal forms, taxes and insurance.

Avoiding innovation on installments

Overall, therefore, the very opposite of innovative behavior, much more innovation prevention with system, as Johann filler in Blog of the Harvard Businessmanager so aptly criticized:

“A lot of managers are still surprisingly conservative when it comes to implementing new ideas. They rely on traditional instruments such as the stage gate process, which divides the innovation process into specific steps, on portfolio management approaches and strictly hierarchical decision and reporting structures. However, this hardly does justice to the changing framework conditions. Many executives ignore modern approaches to using knowledge outside the company. ”

Open to the outside

Companies would have to open much more internally and externally, said Füller, incorporating the ideas and experiences of customers and employees. Because research results showed that different knowledge and perspectives produce the best ideas.

So did an experiment by Scott E. Page, Professor At the University of Michigan, it was clear that it was not a homogenous group of eminent experts, but a group of randomly selected and more average individuals, that achieved the best results. Above all, companies would have to allow experiments and not punish mistakes.

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The death sentence of many companies

If that does not happen, this could be the long-term death penalty of many companies - as the media industry is impressively demonstrating: The new medium of the internet has been ridiculed and despised for years.

There has been no thought about serious business models. Now that it is clear that more and more readers are switching from printed paper to the Internet, financing ideas are being discussed hectically. The train may have long since left, because players like Google or Facebook are already firmly in control of the Internet.

Is there a perfect business idea?

But of course everyone who wants to be successful as a founder needs a really good business idea first. And the demands on a business idea are often high in Germany: It should be successful in the market, generate an income that is at least as high as a comparable permanent position and also similarly secure.

After all, it is intended to provide the founder with a personal space for his own self-realization. Aside from all those who might prefer to take this step than to refer to Hartz IV: They often have no choice but to try it easy.

Less pondering would be sensible

Even if founders are generally considered less successful than convincing doers, who are going to work on schedule: Sometimes a little less pondering about success or failure might be quite good for many wannabe entrepreneurs.

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The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, a study that examines start-up conditions in 42 countries around the world every year, shows that only 22 percent of the 18 to 24-year-olds surveyed actually take advantage of good business opportunities. A full 37 percent, on the other hand, are afraid of failure.

Distrust of entrepreneurs

How these numbers work in practice can be admired again and again in the news: risk avoidance instead of innovation. Damage limitation instead of constructive handling of errors. There is not much to be seen of real “entrepreneurship” - the academic entrepreneurship training does not even have its own name in German.

The result is a fundamental mistrust of entrepreneurs. They are considered evil, greedy and ruthless when they make a profit - a shot of envy swings it certainly always with.

The worst are the Pleitiers

However, they are even worse when they go bankrupt: Because then everyone thinks that this could only happen because the company wanted to make too high profits too quickly. Or because the entrepreneur couldn't handle money. And that he is now filing for bankruptcy at the expense of his debtors. The failed entrepreneur is quickly stigmatized.

But it is not that simple, unfortunately: there are such black sheep, but mostly for smaller companies are not management errors cause of insolvency. Much more often lies the blame for external factors such as personal and health problems of the entrepreneur, the bad payment morale of customers - or the bureaucracy.

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The tax office can also initiate insolvency proceedings

Because what many do not know: Also tax or health insurance can initiate a bankruptcy - and sometimes do that, if the company owes them only a few thousand euros.

The bitter message is: Anyone can hit it. Even the one who can do nothing. Because sometimes you just have bad luck! Many do not want to hear that, insolvency is a taboo topic, it scares. The result is all sorts of absurd defensive measures that make life difficult for future bankrupts.

The opposite of innovation

Unfortunately, many managers are afraid of the opposite of Innovatviem because of fear of failure: they are overshooting the situation, are still in debt, and hope that the crisis is already going somewhere - also for fear of admitting one's own failure.

Or they isolate themselves out of shame because they can no longer compete financially with their circle of friends and acquaintances.

Dangerous devil's circle

A devil's circle, for instance, which results from the combination of a lack of corporate culture, the resulting fear of failure, and exaggerated perfectionism as a compensation strategy.

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This is fatal not only for the companies themselves, but for the entire economy, as the innovative start-ups are considered to be a great source of hope. If the innovations are curtailed at an early stage, this is a problem for Germany as a business location. To escape is not easy - but it is possible, and first approaches already exist.

Training as an entrepreneur

In Germany, the need for entrepreneurship training is becoming more and more important, which could lead to a change in the entrepreneurial image in the medium term. And the entrepreneurial failure is also increasingly addressed:

Germany's model bankrupt Anne Koark has written a book on the subject and reports regularly in the media about her bankruptcy. In Cologne, Attila von Unruh, himself an insolvent entrepreneur, founded the Anonymous Insolvency Group, a discussion group in which people regularly and of course anonymously exchange their experiences, which sometimes even leads to new business ideas.

Away from the perfect business idea

So maybe we need more of the typical thinking of serial entrepreneurs, who do some things fundamentally different here and which Bettina Weiguny also describes in her article:

Each of these startups is a bet on the future, whether dog food sales or game developers, whether a cleaning aid or medical technology portal. Some ideas go up, others do not.

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That also means: moving away from the claim to develop the perfect business idea towards trial and error procedures. What is standing in the way of this in Germany and how can that be changed? One thing is certain: if you want to be successful, you have to dare something crazy. Founders have to be crazy!


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  1. Markus B.

    Fear eats the soul - and innovation. That's the way it is. After all, no one founds to fail.

    • Simone Janson

      Thank you for your contribution!

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