Friday, July 3, 2009

The Home of the Brave Entrepreneurs

With July 4th approaching, I've been motivated to think about a few quintessential traits of the American business and innovation culture. The latest issue of one of my favorite e-zines further inspired me to think about this from an entrepreneurial perspective. Here are three fundamentally American quirks:

  • Failure is a badge of honor. This of course doesn't apply to all forms of failure, but it does apply to the entrepreneurial type of demise. The United States fosters an incredibly supportive environment for new ventures, and a key component of this support comes from the general acceptance of new-business busts. Entrepreneurs are heralded for offering new products and services and are respected for imagining new business models. Failure is just the occasional side-effect of innovation. This is further excused by the fact that second chances are an ingrained component of our culture.
  • Risky behavior is surprisingly supported. Even though the U.S. comes from conservatively puritanical roots, risk within the business context is generally encouraged. Although it is often publicly decried, high-levels of risk are actively pursued. Although new forms of minimizing risk are constantly invented, it is risk that brings great success stories such as Microsoft and Apple, but also great catastrophes such as the recent credit crisis.
  • Technology is both a friend and an enemy. Silicon Valley is still seen as the global hotbed of innovation. But Americans are often initially skeptical of new technology - which is usually masked through the concerns of "security" or "privacy." Adoption of new products usually differs from adoption in Japan or other Asian countries. Familiarity and acceptance of new technology takes longer to permeate our culture - this is why fast-followers are often more successful in reaching a massive audience - e.g. IBM with the personal computer, Microsoft with Windows, Apple with the iPod, Facebook with social networking, etc.

Although these quirks can make entrepreneurship in the United States tricky, they also create a unique environment that has nurtured and continues to nurture many of the most innovative companies in the world.

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