Ending our intolerance of failing

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Ending our intolerance of failing

Ahn Cheol-soo, head of the Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology at Seoul National University, is a much-admired entrepreneur among Korean youth.

After earning his medical degree from SNU, he founded the antivirus software company AhnLab Inc. He left his company to get an MBA from Wharton. He returned home as a Kaist professor and was recruited by SNU in June. He has also served as chairman of Posco’s board. He is popular among students because he is as decent and sincere in teaching as he is talented. He left an equally deep impression with JoongAng Ilbo journalists during a recent lecture.

He lamented our society’s intolerance for failure. Even geniuses, after all, fail time and time again for every success. Yet we get upset at our first disappointment. In such an environment, even large companies like Samsung could flounder. Fear of failure saps motivation to innovate. It is why there are no start-ups in cutting-edge technology. We all say we must not fear failing, yet we dare not act.

The talented are resented instead of being appreciated. When they disappoint us, they are blamed for having been too proud. Few sincerely cheer for their success out of envy. But their work leads to enterprises and jobs. The government can do no more than spend to spur jobs, and it cannot go on spending forever. Start-up companies must be encouraged in order to stimulate the economy.

Korea, Ahn pointed out, cannot get ahead as a “mover” because of our fear of failing. Creativity and innovation change the world, but we only have “followers” because companies take the safer road already taken. Samsung has also been good at following, but it could be outpaced if it does not pave new ways.

He also criticized the spread of “zombie syndrome,” referring to individuals and companies that waste resources. Small companies muddling along on government subsidies despite poor business are also part of this group. Many entrepreneurs are only busy lobbying and networking. Hwang Chul-joo, CEO of Jusung Engineering and head of the Korea Venture Business Association, said companies would be healthier without protection from interest groups.

Ahn also had words of criticism for large companies’ unfair dealings with smaller companies. He warned that our country is not safe if polarization and corruption do not end. The wealthy and the elite must outgrow their old ways. We must pay heed to these words of wisdom.
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