Perceptions of Entrepreneurship across time and culture ...

Picture taken from Revista Dinero

Does the perception, the view or even the attitude towards "entrepreneurship" vary from culture to culture? Was "being an entrepreneur" less valued before?

As you have maybe perceived in some of my previous posts, I am rather of the school of thought of entrepreneurship is a universal and timeless concept– in few words: no matter where and when, there have always been and will always be entrepreneurs. Period. Even though almost nobody doubts that entrepreneurship is a reality, this does not necessarily mean that the way entrepreneurs are seen in different cultures is the same, as also does not mean that at different points of time in recent history the role of entrepreneurship in the society has been the same.

Let´s focus first of time. Recently I was reading an interview made by a Colombian business magazine to Mr. Bo Burlingham, editor of Inc. Magazine, one of the most influential publications on entrepreneurship. Bo affirmed that only few decades ago the figure of an “entrepreneur” was not really appreciated: in the 50s, 60s, & 70s it wasn´t a compliment being called “entrepreneur”. Entrepreneurs were considered weird, strange people, without a clear social value, because at this point of time the dream was becoming a loyal employee of a big corporation. During the 80s, at least in North America, entrepreneurs as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Ted Turner started to revert this perception, until the point where still today they remain icons for personal and professional success. If this was the pace for entrepreneurship acceptance in North America, don´t want to imagine what´s left for the rest of the world.

Let´s focus now on culture. Having lived in 5 different countries in past years (Germany, Austria, Brazil, The Netherlands and India) I guess I never stopped before to analyze deeply how each culture saw entrepreneurs. Though now that I think back it´s pretty easy for me to remember:

[I make the disclaimer that the following were my personal experiences and perceptions between 1998 and 2006, and do not necessarily represent realty]

- Germany & Austria: It was not particularly cool to be an entrepreneur. I even was on a conversation with someone that affirmed that being an entrepreneur was kind of irresponsible, cause at the end of the day “you had no real job” and that did not provide any financial security for your family. Being an entrepreneur was a B Plan for those not capable enough to get a traditional job. I must admit that at this point of my life I was not as aware and passionate for entrepreneurship as I am now, that´s why those type of comments did not really mean much for me. But today, thinking back, they really amaze me.

- Brazil: Entrepreneurship was rather a “bohemian” concept, not necessarily having a negative connotation. It was linked to “people that want to change the world”, which despite the romantic aspect of it, was very inspiring. I believe in Brazil is where I started to fall in love with entrepreneurship, in concept and practice …

- India: Entrepreneurship was at its highest expression. Formal and informal entrepreneurship, social and business entrepreneurship, there was a bit (or a bunch!) or everything, it all was blended into the culture. Entrepreneurship was fast, dynamic and well, it was rare not finding someone not related to his/her own business. I worked in India with an entrepreneur and it was an great experience, he was really money/profit oriented, I remember him always saying “This is not an NGO, we have to sell and make good business”.

Have you experienced something particular in other cultures regarding entrepreneurship? Have you ever talked to you grandparents about what in their time meant to be an entrepreneur?

I want to finish quoting Bo Burlingham again; I believe it´s a beautiful reflection to end this post with:

“Entrepreneurship has been always with us when have aimed to move forward and have a better live, and so will be forever. Despite of that, the entrepreneurial environment is always changing, it´s a blend of social, CULTURAL, political and economical changes. For instance, governments can make entrepreneurship easier or simply create barriers to make it simply impossible”.