October 14, 2011
Guest post by Scott Wagers, Owner of BioSci Consulting and a former Assistant Professor at University of Vermont College of Medicine
As an American living in Belgium I have noticed many differences between the American and European approach to work. Americans are very goal oriented, we’ll work through the night to meet a deadline or to solve a vexing problem. In general, Europeans will leave precisely at 5 PM regardless that something is not finished. They have a very thick skin for tolerating the criticism that comes with not meeting deadlines. I do want to point out however that I am making broad generalizations here and when you begin to do that you are almost certainly incorrect, but my goal is to illustrate a point. Other things I have noticed is that if call a company and you make a request and the person who usually does that request is on vacation (usually 6 weeks) you are told to wait until they return. One company that I tried in vain to call in July, just let their phone ring, not even an answering machine to say they were closed for vacation. For Americans everything is great – “it was th
e best food, the best vacation etc.” For Europeans it was “okay”. In defense of Europeans, when they come to work, it is about work. There are no 2 hour martini lunches, or walking around to chat with people in the different work areas. Americans have a peak and valley work ethic, whereas Europeans tend to be more consistent. I think Howard Gutman, American ambassador to Belgium, sums it up when he talks about cooking frogs. He tells a story of how he was discussing with a Belgian diplomat how to get more European engagement in Afghanistan. The Belgian diplomat said “Do you know how to cook a frog?” If you first boil the water and set the frog in, it will jump out immediately. If you set the frog in the water and let the water warm up slowly the frog cooks gradually and will not jump out of the water. Howard Gutman’s response was “ I would just boil the water, throw the frog in and slam a lid on the pot”.
I attended the first session of the Brussels Founder’s Institute last night and I feel like I got a good American style kick in the pants. The Founder’s Institute is the vision of Adeo Ressi, who is one of the most successful internet startup gurus. It came out of a frustration with how venture capitalists were setting up contracts that at first glance looked like they were only taking a small percentage of a company, but when the company was sold it would trigger clauses that meant 95% of the capital would go to the venture capitalists. Feeling a need to leave a legacy he began on a crusade to mentor technology founders through the startup process to avoid mistakes such as giving your company away to venture capitalists. The main point of last night’s session was that you always have to bring your ‘A’ game, and at first I thought, ja I always do. Now 12 hours later I realize that is not completely true. In fact it is easy to sl
ip into a kind of passiveness when you run into problems and barriers – a more European “wait for the process”. On the other hand being a more brash American I probably would have started, or tried to start the company we are planning to start and just see what happens. My European Co-founder encouraged me that we should take part in the Founder’s Institute and I am glad he did.
In fact part of the reason why I wrote this blog post, is that I did not bring my A game. Adeo offer to meet with any of us prior to the start of the session – only half showed up. For those of us who failed to take this opportunity he is requiring that we either get a blogpost in a major blog, get a major political figure to tweet about the Founder’s Institute, or get someone to agree to Mentor in the Brussels Founder’s Institute in 48 hours or we are out of the program. Bringing my A game I am working on all three. So if you read this blogpost I will be enthusiastically continuing in the Brussel’s Founders Institute.
In some ways from a European perspective this requirement and this stype of operating is quite shocking. Nonetheless I think there is something to learn from this. We should strive to combine viewpoints and approaches. European Policy should be to promote these types of exchanges for a two way education. One aspect that I noticed that once the session started moving Adeo was impressed with the questions. Why was that? I think it is because Europe places a much higher value on education and intellectualism. So, I would put forth that Europe should be doing more to embrace the American style. Forums such as the Founder’s Insitute should be funded, highlighted and promoted. Europe should relish in the collision of cultures and learn from it while teaching the Americans something as well.Blogactiv Team