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Fear, Fearlessness And Entrepreneurship

Written by Ken Gaebler
Published: 8/31/2015

No guts, no glory! Academic researchers look at the role of fear in entrepreneurship.

Do you have to be fearless to start a business?

Fear and Entrepreneurship

Academics continue to try to understand what makes entrepreneurs tick.

The Australian Centre for Entrepreneurship Research recently investigated whether average entrepreneurs tend to be rule-breakers.

The researchers looked at data collected by tracking 1,000 Swedish children from youth to adulthood. Were the kids who broke societal rules more likely to become entrepreneurs?

The answer was yes. The study found that "rule-breaking activities in adolescence indeed predicted entrepreneurial activity over the occupational career."

So Do Criminals Make Good Entrepreneurs?

The way I interpret this study's results isn't that lawbreakers are more likely to be entrepreneurial. If your child is a juvenile delinquent, you shouldn't be thinking "Great. She's going to be an amazing entrepreneur one day."

Rather, I'm inclined to dig deeper into what character attributes make one likely to be a rule breaker and see how that informs our thinking on what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

We know that rule breakers are trying to stand out from the crowd, they don't accept societal norms and prefer to write their own rules, and they are inclined to act without considering the possibility that they might get caught or be punished.

In short, they're fearless and perhaps a bit self-absorbed and arrogant.

Being Too Afraid To Start a Business

The suggestion that entrepreneurs must be fearless was of interest to another academic, Philipp K. Berger from the University of Bremen.

His research (see this PDF version of the study if you are interested) finds that fear of failure is the "major cause hindering potential entrepreneurs from founding companies."

He recommends would-be entrepreneurs to think about founding a company as a series of small steps, rather than one big decision. With this approach, he says, you'll have less fear.

I completely buy into that. My daughters can attest that "Hard by the yard, cinch by the inch" is one of my favorite phrases. Whenever they were overwhelmed with something, I'd help them to break it down into small, doable subtasks. The fear and the anxiety quickly dissipated.

Does Fear Explain the Gender Gap in Entrepreneurship?

Dr. Berger says that women are more afraid than men. He recently told The Wall Street Journal that "females tend to be more fearful about founding a company, even though they have the same success chances once they actually do. A lot of the entrepreneurship potential of women is untapped. "

I suspect that many women would take exception to the comment, but it's clear that how one is raised and how society tells you to behave will impact how fear affects you.

Societies that stigmatize failure and encourage conformity are not likely to have many entrepreneurs.

If we want more entrepreneurs in this world, we simply need to educate young people not to be afraid.

If that leads them to break a few rules, it's OK. It's a small price to pay for the positive impact that entrepreneurs have on our society.

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