Prior to moving here from Germany, I had never thought of becoming an entrepreneur. It was beyond my horizon. In my mind, it was a thing I simply wouldn’t do; however, without ever asking myself why. By now, things have changed.
Germany is different from the US in so many ways. One of the biggest differences is how the two countries interpret “failure”. Here in the US, if an entrepreneur launches ten businesses, eight of them are most likely to end up in a complete disaster. However, the math is simple—there are still two promising endeavors left. (And, by the way, the broken ones offer great content and stories to write a book on.)
In Germany, the situation is different: People are afraid of making mistakes. Failing always has the notion of your name being put on a red list from which it can never be removed. I grew up with this mindset from the very moment I started school.
Paradoxically, entrepreneurial initiative and mindset are highly desired and essential in our society. We are currently in an age of disruption. The cycles in technology have become shorter and shorter. There are new, alarming threats out there in the world of cyber-crime; and old ones, which make our sea levels rise and our resources scarce. All this is frightening. On the other hand, it makes us embrace innovative responses. It has never been so easy to share and find response for your crazy, groundbreaking ideas.
Thus, how can we provide a new mindset to the young generation? How can we make (or keep) them curious and adventurous? What steps have to be taken to empower them in order to make the step into entrepreneurship?
Harness the “Wisdom of the Crowds” – The value of collaboration
There is an amazing short film from the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce about the necessity to change the paradigms of our education system. What I found most shocking was a long-term study on the proficiency in “divergent thinking.” This concept refers to the ability to explore a wide range of possible solutions to a problem — instead of always sticking to status-quo heuristics. A common question to measure this construct is: “How many ways can you use a paper clip?” The study compared the performance of 5-year-olds, 10-year-olds, and 15-year-olds,. The results demonstrated the percentage of each group that performed on a genius level. Guess which age group won?
Don’t think in labels — The world is a holistic place
The results were 98, 30 and 12 percent—a decrease of almost 90 percentage points in a decade! But, this revelation is absolutely positive: It shows that each of us has the potential to be a creative genius. However, the major challenge lies on defending and recovering our gift.
How can we do that? The most important aspect is not to narrow our minds if we focus on a distinct goal. Especially when it comes to pursuing a career, often people are completely absorbed in the process and lose track of the big picture. However, we need this big picture! Our world is highly interconnected, and thus, it is absolutely essential that we understand the environment we are living in.
However, it is not only about goals and processes. Right now, how do you feel? You might be focused on this article, (which I really appreciate!). You might vaguely hear some background noise. But how about your body? Are your legs crossed, your neck relaxed, your breathing deep? What are your hands doing, do you feel sunrays on your skin, what do you smell in this very moment? What is your relationship to your environment? Are you absorbed into your own intimate bubble or do you mentally reach out to your surroundings?
As you see, there is a macro and micro level of holistically experiencing our world. We should nurse both of them as a valuable gift: It makes our life deep and multifaceted!
Spark your interest by creatively reframing boredom
Often, you have to do things you don’t really care about. I absolutely know what I am talking about: Of all things, I decided to study accounting and taxation. Even though I didn’t care much about the topic itself, at some point, I managed to absolutely enjoy my studies. How? By reframing the issue!
At one point, I realized that the entire system is essential for our society and economy to function properly. You need to establish rules and processes in order to provide reliability, fairness, and security, again, in order to assure for investment, collaboration and tax payments—a functioning society. With this in mind, I studied the taxation laws, accounting principles and the German “Grundgesetz.” All of a sudden, things became meaningful. Interesting. Worth to deal with and find out about.
(And if this works out with taxation, it should be applicable to anything else… trust me!)
Value your mistakes
We don’t like mistakes, that is completely human. They take us out of our comfort zone and almost always involve change. However, mistakes are the trigger for learning – there is so much information we can use if we don’t close our eyes in the sight of failure.
In our education system, we are penalized for making mistakes. However, why not focus on giving points by the quality of our ideas and strategies toward a solution? If you never make a mistake, you just move along a path which is perfectly familiar to you. It’s safe — but it’s by no means what our society currently needs.. As many successful entrepreneurs say, failure is very much needed in order to grow.
The cycle closes at this point and I am back at my own story. When I go back to Germany next year, I will take insights with me that broadened my horizon. By now, becoming an entrepreneur is no longer a thing you simply can’t do. It’s an option. An option, being worth opened up to each and every one of us.
There are many steps to take: We need to find the way back to our genius in divergent thinking. We need to gain back the interest in our environment. We need to develop the urge to explore more than what immediately seems necessary. And we need to embrace the obstacles along the way; if we do, the mistakes we make will propel us forward.