Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Is the tall-poppy syndrome about lack of vision?

Matt Barrie of has much to say
about technology entrepreneurship in Australia.
Matt Barrie of has a lot to say about technology entrepreneurship in Australia. Given his deep experience in start-ups as well as his success in founding an online company, he's worth listening to. Asher Moses, technology editor at the Sydney Morning Herald has been running a series of stories in the past few weeks, titled 'Digital Dreamers', and Barrie has featured in several. The most recent story in the series looks at an IT plan being put together by the New South Wales government.

The story itself is revealing as to what governments should and should not be doing, but it is the video attached to the story that is most worth viewing.

Barrie addresses the question of what a government can do to spark new businesses in the technology sector in Australia. In an earlier video, Moses went to San Francisco to talk with Australians who have relocated Stateside to further their dreams. People I have talked to, talk about the rich ecosphere that Silicon Valley offers entrepreneurs. One man I spoke with likened it to a rainforest. The fact is that over 70 Australians with good ideas for starting new businesses have moved to San Fran in recent years simply because the place offers them opportunities that are unavailable in Australia. Australians are also popping up more often than before in Hollywood movies. We are making an impression over there. So what can government do?

It's probably not something that an American would ask, they being, in general, a bit more sceptical about the role of government in business, than we are here. Barrie talks in the video linked to from this post about offering entrepreneurs sums of money to set up operations in which many individuals can participate, thus laying the groundwork for the type of ecosphere that Silicon Valley has offered digital dreamers for decades.

This might work, but I think the problem is one of our understanding of risk, and our tolerance for it. Being able to see the potential of a good idea, or of any idea, is something that they do well in California. We do not do it well. Here, the immediate response to an inventive plan is, generally, "Is there an immediate financial reward that I can see?" rather than "How would that work?" We focus too much on latching onto established business where we can estimate a realistic financial return in the short term. Long-term planning for future financial reward is a casualty of this unenterprising attitude.

Is it the tall-poppy syndrome? (You cut down the tall poppy to make it fit with the rest.) Possibly. But it's more to do with vision. Forward-looking businesspeople might take a short-term hit, say, by spending time talking about an idea even before there is any expectation of a financial reward. It's important to be sceptical, to be sure. We don't want to waste time on unviable enterprises. But more important is allowing ideas to run. Ideas need encouragement to find their legs. Once they have taken root in enough individual minds there is more likelihood that they will begin to germinate, leading to profitability and cashflow.

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