I was surprised to read the front page article in the WSJ this week entitled “Risk-Averse Culture Infects US workers, Entrepreneurs.” It goes on to talk about the decline in new business starts, investment in new business, fewer jobs created by entrepreneurial businesses, and lack of job changing since at least 1982. Where have all the entrepreneurs gone?
I think two factors are really impacting the latest “risk aversion” behavior. First, we just went through the worst recession since the Great Depression, and second, the baby boomers are solidly into retirement. It’s definitely understandable to pull back when faced with “losing it all” or even losing a little. However, as I mentioned in last week’s blog, there is such a thing as “safe risk” and it seems at least according to all the data in the article, we are not even doing much of that!
So how do we turn this trend around? As mentioned in the article, there are pockets of entrepreneurial spirit, such as Silicon Valley, Boston, coastal cities and some college towns, but it’s not spreading to the rest of the country. People want a “safe job” vs. the unpredictable nature of starting their own company or working for a small to mid-sized entrepreneurial company. This seems counterintuitive to me, especially given all the people that were let go from large companies during the recession versus those who lost their jobs with smaller employers.
We can turn it around, one community at a time, one culture at a time. We do this by supporting each other and making it safer and easier to succeed. We cut the red tape for all businesses so leaders can get on with the job of growing the business. What do I mean by this? We have a great example here in Seattle. There is a unique incubator called “SURF” founded by Seaton Gras, and run with Director Neil Berquist, which has created an amazing entrepreneurial community with all the tools and culture to foster start-ups. This is a great example of making it “safe” to take a risk and start a business. Certainly not all will succeed, but many will and they will provide jobs and opportunities for many more that come after them.
The culture Gras and Berquist have created at SURF is contagious. You can’t help but feel the energy and excitement when going into the space and seeing the collaboration of over 60 start-ups in various stages of evolution. I’ve always said when you fail, fail fast and have fun with it and SURF is all about that. You don’t innovate without failure and they are a very innovative bunch.
So think about how to create an entrepreneurial culture in your business and don’t let this wonderful trait that is truly part of the American DNA die a slow death. Let your employees try new things, encourage movement of jobs, facilitate change and maybe, just maybe, we can stop the declining trend, one entrepreneur at a time.