The times are turbulent. We even speak of a turning point in time. These are times of upheavals, shifts, confusion, migrations, reversals, inflation. The 21st century has already confronted us with crises of global dimensions, even with a war in Europe.
This pushes not only founders but also experienced entrepreneurs and managers to their limits. Changing framework conditions pose enormous challenges even to companies that are used to success. Even common management theories are often ineffective today. Politics, the economy and many companies are probably facing the most significant transformation in history.
And yet, the idea that everything will always remain the way it is, that everyone everywhere will be okay, and that times of global well-being, peace and the elusive paradisiacal land of milk and honey will materialise, may exist in utopias. One may think it desirable. But in reality, the practice was and is different.
Turbulent times are pretty normal
Everything is not expected to go well and endlessly “upwards”. It has been normal in the history of humanity, in our planet, it was and has been that things sometimes go well and sometimes they do not. It is like a pendulum, it swings up and down.
Peace, trust, constructive behaviour, successful communication, a functioning democracy and yes, success, are hard work and depend on many processes. Moreover, this always takes place on thin ice and is, therefore, fragile.
Too spoilt for success from the last decades, it seems many have forgotten this. Instead, many are shaken by worry, fear, stress, pessimism, negativity about the future, and a loss of hope and confidence, as if the future could never improve. A significant number of people, unfortunately also some media, especially modern social media, join the chorus of know-it-alls, even secret-keepers of gloomy analyses, outlooks and forecasts.
Why? Because we no longer have a compass of values as our lighthouse to guide us in good and less good, challenging times.
We are often no longer aware that every coin has at least two sides − the challenges and the opportunities. The classic, long-standing magic formula is: “Your life will be successful if you consider the two sides of your happiness medal. On one side is vision. On the other is patience. Patiently hold on to your visions. And fill waiting times with concentration on your visions.”
The stamina weakens
Also, the muscles of endurance are no longer trained in many people. To persevere when it’s well and everything is wonderful, when everything is going favourably, when everything is great, well, that’s really not an art.
We have increasingly allowed ourselves to be blinded. The economy, entrepreneurship and the financial world have allowed themselves to be seduced by the rat race for fast money, the supreme maxim of business administration and profit maximisation.
In entrepreneurship, long-term success is now the exception
In the process, we recklessly accept the collateral damage of over-pollution, over-consumption of resources, boundlessness, immoderateness, addiction to consumption and pleasure, as well as endless entitlement. And we forget that in the end, we and future generations will have to live with the damage we cause.
Also, the mainstream regarding the understanding of innovations is no longer correct. Too many pseudo-innovations are a central stumbling block. As history shows us again and again, countless innovations initially appear as great successes, as bombastic solutions, but were then, unfortunately, the cause of even much more significant problems.
Some even appeared to be downright groundbreaking, and only much later were the horrendous collateral damages of the supposedly great innovation recognised.
Rapid innovation often creates new problems
A quickly conceived innovation may solve a problem, but it often creates a whole host of new problems. Science speaks of “second and third-order effects”. They are what makes it so difficult for us to assess things correctly. And therein lurks the danger.
First-order effects are the immediate results and effects of a decision. Second-order effects are the longer-term effects. Third-order effects often appear widely ramified, only they appear later and usually quite differently than expected. They are all rarely predictable at first glance. Our thinking is too under-complex. That’s why sensible, responsible, sustainable innovations require time, precise analysis and careful thought. This makes implementation a little slower but creates fewer new problems. However, in today’s hectic and fast pace, things are hardly ever carefully thought through to the end. This is tedious and lengthy ‒ and our era, unfortunately, likes neither effort nor slowness.
Many things need to be corrected! For example, companies’ average lifespan has been decreasing for decades; it is currently only about 10 years. In entrepreneurship, long-term success is now the exception. Failure is the norm today!
The world needs more symbioses
Driven by the supposedly quick money, 55 per cent of founders ‒ not only of start-ups ‒ have to give up within five years and up to 90 per cent within 10 years. Many potential entrepreneurs do not even dare to start their own business or never try again after a failure.
Competition in the markets, which have often mutated into brutal shark tanks, is also out of control, at least regarding fairness, rules of the game and values. In the end, this harms everyone far more than it helps.
Not entirely innocent of this is Charles Darwin’s famous but often false theory of evolution, especially his ‘survival of the fittest’ maxim. It is a fatal, catastrophic and misleading contribution to humanity and nature that should be banned at least from schoolbooks. Countries like India have already taken this step.
Instead, the dominating model of nature, which is symbiosis, should take its place. Also, in the economy and in entrepreneurship.
Be successful in the long term
To be successful is not a great art. The great art is to maintain success. And sustainable success works according to its own rules and mechanisms. In short, if you want to be continuously successful as an entrepreneur, you have to be guided by values and benefits, not primarily by profit.
Instead of experiments, we need a return to what has always worked reliably in practice. One solution lies in sustainable entrepreneurship: what sounds like a buzzword today is, at the same time, old school that has been forgotten − the weatherproof commercial virtues of creating meaningful benefits with economic, social and ecological responsibility for customers, employees and markets with foresight.
That’s exactly why I wrote the book Wahre Werte anstatt schnelles Geld (True values instead of fast money) − How to Make Your Company Crisis-Proof and Successful in the Long Term, currently available in German.
It is time to finally rethink things outside the well-trodden paths. The promising sustainable solutions may even be closer than you think.
Reinhold M. Karner, FRSA, is an entrepreneurship and start-up evangelist, multiple chairman (e.g. AP Valletta), corporate philosopher, entrepreneur, author, university lecturer and fellowship connector of the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) for Malta and Austria.