The United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney has today released a report detailing how Australia can overcome the stigma around entrepreneurial failure by drawing on insights from the US experience.

America’s innovation success is built on the back of entrepreneurs who embrace experimentalism, risk, and failure. This culture has helped make the United States the unrivalled leader of the digital revolution because it enables the flow of capital to new ventures, innovative management practices, and the audacity to commercialise technological breakthroughs. 

Report author Vafa Ghazavi, a John Monash Scholar at the University of Oxford and a former Australian diplomat and international cyber policy adviser in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, provides several recommendations in his paper to help Australia better embrace elements of this kind of US innovation culture.

“Australia has achieved profound economic and social success, yet following a quarter century of economic growth, it is unsurprising that Australians’ risk tolerance is relatively low," Ghazavi said.

"Australia must rethink the meaning of failure to ensure this prosperity continues. The American example demonstrates there is no time for complacency, and no room for pessimism.

"Aspiring entrepreneurs also need to be given room to experiment — and fail. This is the social and cultural task, as distinct from the technocratic or commercial one, of nations seeking to become innovation leaders."

Key points

  • Australian cautiousness is deeply ingrained in its economic climate despite a strong social safety net and an egalitarian ethos. Australia can build on its economic momentum by challenging prevailing attitudes towards failure.
  • Universities should give academics time and training to pursue entrepreneurial activities, and allow them a pathway to take sabbaticals or unpaid leave to pursue entrepreneurial ideas with the failsafe of returning to their full-time academic role.
  • Innovation and Science Australia, in collaboration with the Behavioural Economics Team of Australia and start-ups, should investigate effective ways to promote discussion of entrepreneurial failure in homes, schools and workplaces.

View report

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