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The Don Quixote Paradox

giordanoI have often thought about cultural change, especially in association with entrepreneurship and the so-called entrepreneurial mind-set. I usually tend to agree about the necessity, especially in Europe, that a change in this respect would be useful. But is it really achievable?

At a first glance, we would be hard-pressed to find a point of disagreement with the analysis, recommendations and conclusions reported within the European Commission’s communication ‘The Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan’ - and its happy catchphrase ‘Reigniting the entrepreneurial spirit in Europe’. Indeed, it clearly recognises that EU entrepreneurs are sailing in troubled waters. A tough environment, unbalanced support measures, generally slower growth, a non-rewarding culture...are probably the major causes of the lack of self-employment, let alone entrepreneurial, aspirations among EU citizens.

Many of the proposals to address these issues are well within the realm of possibility. They depend more heavily on changes which can be influenced directly by human action. But, whether these actions will actually be taken is more a matter of political decision-making and administrative implementation. Not easy, but possible.

Cultural change however is somewhat different, and the difference lies in the fact that culture has roots, and these roots go well beyond our sphere of influence. Entrepreneurship culture is of course moulded by current (and past) economic factors (both local and global), but also by history, environment, traditions and many other variables which we cannot influence, and which we must not mess with - it’s better not to mess with your own DNA, so to speak. If we take this argument to the extreme…wanting to enforce a cultural change also carries some heavy ethical implications.

In principle, I would agree that Europe would be better off with more entrepreneurs. And to have more entrepreneurs you might think of carrying out actions which could produce some degree of cultural change. And maybe cultural change might be even achievable, but only as a long-term project for the benefit of future generations.

In the meantime, as the economist John Maynard Keynes wisely put it, “in the long-run we are all dead”, we have to start considering our own culture more as a constant, rather than as a variable, in the complex entrepreneurship equation. Acknowledging this might ultimately produce decisions, policies and governance systems that work around our cultures, not necessarily upon them. This may have a wider and more effective immediate impact for all those potential entrepreneurs living here and now. As a side-effect, it might even produce better-tailored entrepreneurship support systems, impacting the way we, as incubators, do our daily job.

Let's stop tilting at windmills and charge on into the real battle...
Published on 21-10-2013 14:02 by David Tee. 1264 page views

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