After all, our Asian parents did not invest so much money and effort in our education for us to turn down a prestigious and well paying job. We have a very high cost of living and our monthly rent for a small apartment is more than a mortgage for a 5 bedroom house in Florida. Culturally, we simply were not raised to take big professional and personal chances. Recruiting individuals to join a startup in Hong Kong was near impossible despite market pay, flexibility and lifestyle it provided. I could see in peoples eyes that their heart wanted to take the risk but their head, with its aversion for risk, generally prevailed.
There are varying degrees of risk and I don’t suggest that leaving your job to start a company is right for everyone. But not taking risks for fear of failure alone must be overcome in Asia. In the US, people wear failure on their sleeve like a badge of honor. It says “I had the guts to try and here I am…stronger and smarter from the experience”. In Asia, our family, society and companies view failure as the simple converse to success. Asia is no doubt becoming the leading force in the global economy and that will not change. But how much do we leave on the table by not being the innovating force of the global economy. China, in particular, is often cited as being unoriginal. I believe this is largely true. But it is not due to a lack of creativity but due to unseen societal and institutional boundaries. One can not innovate without some degree of risk taking and overcoming the ever present fear of failure.
So my plea to you is to take a risk today. If you are sitting at your desk set free that edgy banner ad or headline you have always wanted to try. Have a coffee with friends about the startup idea that has been lingering in your mind and work on it on the side. Simply, challenge convention in one way or another. You will find it is not only liberating but it will spark a more creative side of your being. We need to get comfortable with being less functional and more creative. Taking chances one by one is the only way we can change. And for all of those out there that don’t tolerate personal failure, don’t judge those that try something different.