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The one thing holding entrepreneurs back and costing us billions

Aussie entrepreneurs are being held back by fears of failure and ‘tall poppy syndrome’. Image: Getty
Aussie entrepreneurs are being held back by fears of failure and ‘tall poppy syndrome’. Image: Getty

Have you always dreamed of owning your own business but never made it over the line? You’re not the only one.

More than half of all Australians have seriously considered starting a business but ‘tall poppy syndrome’ coupled with fear of failure is proving a potent deterrent.

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“Deep down Australians are ambitious and want others to be more ambitious, but fear seems to be holding us back,” small business spokesperson at insurer CGU, Kate Wellard said.

According to CGU’s newly-released Ambition Index, more than two thirds of Australians (68 per cent) and even more small business owners (75 per cent) think Australia has a negative approach towards those with ambition.

Nearly half (44 per cent) said the fear of failure is their main barrier to launching a business.

Additionally, 70 per cent of respondents said they prefer not to talk about their successes and dreams as they fear being labelled a “bragger”.

“Ambition shouldn’t be a dirty word,” Wellard said. “When we’re striving for our goals we’re happier and also driving ourselves and our nation forward.”

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Economic payoff for success is huge

In fact, according to CGU, if just 10 per cent of those considering starting a business actually did it, and achieved their growth goals, the economic payoff would total an extra $1.7 billion in Gross Domestic Product.

“While we have long been known as the ‘lucky country’ our prosperity depends on our ability to make our own luck,” Wellard said.

“To do that we need to start fostering and backing ambition of all kinds, whether this be starting a business, creating something new or innovative, or even migrating to Australia to build a better life.”

It’s different on the other side of the fence

Interestingly, small business owners are less likely to consider ‘tall poppy syndrome’ a barrier, with only one in 20 saying it has been an impediment. Additionally, only 24 per cent said the fear of failure was a deterrent.

“Small business owners are innovators and risk takers, and champions of ambition in our communities,” Wellard said.

Founder of socially conscious surf brand Monsta Surf, Cam Greenwood said he struggled to share his ambitions when he was younger. However, he now considers ambition a “beautiful thing”.

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“I think life is best lived when you are driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear. There are definitely moments of fear and anxiety, valleys and stormy times. But just like an adventure, you need to move through these times in order to get to where you want to go,” Greenwood explained in CGU’s Ambition Index report.

“I think ambition is a beautiful thing. Being filled with an ambitious attitude positively changes the way you think, act and live.”

Tapping ambition is key to success

The Global Innovation Index ranks Australia 19th, but labels us as ‘stall out’ nation. That means we’ve achieved a high level of evolution but are at risk of losing momentum and falling behind.

Noting this, CGU described ambition as Australia’s “greatest untapped resource” and warned that we don’t value it as much as it should.