The rhetoric of the ‘start-up’. November 1, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy.
I’m leaning a lot this week on the Sunday Business Post, but there’s been some useful stuff in it – albeit sometimes in spite of rather than because. Adrian Weckler, though, in his tech column some weeks back raises a point, which can be broadened out to encompass the rhetoric we often here served up to us in the present period when he says the following:
“We should run this country/company like a start-up.” How many times have you heard a pundit or a colleague say that?
The intention is noble. It is a suggestion that there should be more creativity, more elbow grease and more ‘innovation’ applied.
But, he notes the obvious:
It’s true that start-ups are exciting. Start-ups are sexy. We in the media lionise start-ups (this newspaper features a special Start-up of the Day interview every weekday on The Daily Business Post).
There’s just one problem with an en-masse emulation of the start-up model – start-ups fail.
And not just the odd failure, either: failure is the norm for start-ups.
Indeed he quotes a figure that 70 to 80 per cent of start-ups fail. And he notes that in his own experience of covering as a journalist over 500 start-up firms ‘not many of them are still in business’.
Moreover, and I think he’s doing a bit of a public service here, he notes that:
And of those which have succeeded? I can’t think of any that didn’t involve 80-hour weeks, significant stress and a near total suspension of any social, sporting or family life.
“I don’t think anyone can prepare you for how difficult it is going to be,” said Andrew Jenkinson, co-founder of vStream, a digital media company. “The only guarantees are of hardship. You need a unerring and unfaltering belief in what you are doing.”
Does that sound like you?
Do you embrace this guarantee of hardship? Do you have an unerring and unfaltering belief in what you’re doing?
Are you prepared to give up the notion of holidays, pensions and a whole raft of employee rights you currently take for granted?
I didn’t think so.
And how could people be? Most private sector work is in largely settled companies of varying sizes where work is usually predictable and rights are – correctly – often taken for granted. But it goes further than that. There’s little question that start-ups are in and of themselves positive (albeit let’s not overstate that fact). There is an energy and enthusiasm which is often essential to get new ideas out and that thrives in such high pressure contexts.
But having worked for small and large private outfits and multi-nationals that sort of creative chaos is just about the last thing that is required in the provision and distribution of goods and services once the initial process of bringing them to market has ended. In their mature phase (and before it to be honest) predictability, reliability and sustainability are what is required by other companies engaging in the supply chain and on the part of customers.
And this is as important, actually it’s more important, when one thinks about how a country is run. The idea that a state can be run in its public services like a start-up is barmy. There’s simply no comparison between the two, any more than I want ‘creativity’ in the way the plumber who I hope will drop over this week to fix a water leak operates. I want him or her to just do the job and get on with it.
In a way this points to the triumph of marketing, where the added extra on top of many a mundane product or service is a near poetic lyricism – well, cod lyricism, about ‘innovation’, ‘creativity’ and so on. But again that’s not what people want or need in respect of services such as social welfare, health and education. Stability, predictability, observable outcomes and so on.
And for workers – most workers anyhow, these aren’t the sort of contexts they want to work in either. Weckler alludes to that himself:
A “normal job” with its expectations of some security, holidays and rights, appears to be what most individuals aspire to.
Stability above all else. I’ve also noted previously how far too often we seem to see the economy reflected through the prism of the media, with journalists seemingly assuming that the fairly high risk environment they work in is easily mapped onto the rest of the private sector. But again, that’s so far from the reality as to be almost laughable.
But it’s a mark of how depressingly detached from those realities of working life for most workers that people can hold attitudes and make statements like that quoted by Weckler with little fear of being contradicted.