The Economist had a recent leader (editorial) headed Visas for entrepreneurs: Let the job-creators in. This in turn was triggered by an article in the same issue, looking at the initiatives of Chile and other countries to attract entrepreneurial immigrants (Visas for entrepreneurs: Where creators are welcome). In contrast to countries that have no policy regarding business investors or start-up entrepreneurs or that – like the US – have a million-dollar investment barrier, Chile has no investment minimum for entrepreneurial immigration applicants. Chile not only gives a one year visa, but actually pays the immigrant up to $40,000 without taking an equity stake in the business.

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Who wouldn’t welcome entrepreneurial immigrants? They create jobs. But the problem is, they don’t just bring fresh ideas to the creation of products and services, they bring it to your whole culture.

Look at the Middle East: which country is the most entrepreneurial? Israel which – for good and bad – has been in a state of massive immigration and massive social disruption (to put it mildly, from the Palestinian viewpoint) for the past century. Meanwhile, the least entrepreneurial countries are those that most strongly resist immigration because they resist cultural change.

This is the essential dilemma: maintain the comfort of familiar ways, and stagnate? Or accept unpredictable innovations and improvements, at the cost of your traditions and cultural norms? And note: everything in this post applies to companies and their cultures, as well as to nations!

Some countries have come to a balance, in which the freedom to create cultural change is part of the cultural norm. The US has been spectacularly good at this, and generates far more than its share of bizarre ideas, some appalling, some brilliant. And cultural change is increasingly accepted as normal around the world.

Not that everyone accepts this. The entrepreneurial immigrant, identifiably different through language, race or clothing, will inevitably draw a confused mixture of resentment and admiration, expressed as mockery:

Q: Why don’t East Indians ever make it to the World Cup?

A: Because every time they get a corner, they put a store on it.

Hold on to the compliment hidden in the joke, immigrants, innovators and entrepreneurs! Keep smiling, because eventually they’ll value you for improving their lives as well as your own.

4 thoughts on “Business Acumen – innovation means change

  1. In most any country, a new entrepreneur may, or may not be innovative. In some instances, they may be seen as someone doing nothing new other than displaying social and cultural differences, while operating a business or industry that was already in place before they arrived.

    In such instances, the change would be seen as an outsider moving in to their world. And don’t forget that the resistance to cultural change is a two-way street: the new arrival resists assimilating into the local culture just as the locals resist the appearance of something new that they may not fully understand, and could be cautious of–all this is very natural.

    Further, that the business is already there, can make it worse if the only change the locals see is the loss of what was familiar (and therefore comfortable) to them. Then, the change is seen as a negative one, and resistance could increase.

    So if faced with potential resistance, which is likely to be expressed as resentment, consider these points before you commit to the move:

    1) Will the only changes the people notice be my dialect, mannerisms, and wardrobe?
    2) Will I be bringing an actual, or just theoretically positive economic change to the local people with my new venture?
    3) Do the people I will be living around believe a positive change is coming?
    4) Am I prepared to face the truth about how the local people will view and respond to my temperament, style, and cultural habits, and have I considered realistically what immediate changes I have to be willing to make?

    Consider hiring a cultural consultant both before and after the move. And if at all possible, take an extended vacation in a nearby village or town prior to the startup. If you find yourself facing serious social issues, maybe you should rethink your venture altogether.

  2. Thoughtful comments, Van, thank you. I particularly appreciate the recommendation of an extended vacation in your intended new home, before making the big move!

    I think there is an additional, unspoken benefit in the “breath of fresh air” that the immigrant brings.

    “Dialect, mannerisms and wardrobe” differ significantly even between different parts of a country, including the US. Imagine if no one ever moved to a certain isolated community, simply because no one ever moved there. In the long run its economic fortunes would suffer from lack of outside resource links, lack of new ideas, lack of development – though its cultural cohesion would likely be comfortingly high.

    If the future of the world lies in developing a culture tolerant of constant change (which is my belief), then all domestic and international migration furthers our future… at least in that respect!

  3. Robin,

    Thank you for inviting me to your blog…Ironically, this issue has been on my mind for the past several years…especially since the last U.S. Presidential debate.

    I sure hope our citizens will realize the value of embracing a global economy instead of protectionism. We have to realize we just can’t fight it anymore…we will only continue to languish if we resist. I for one find the prospect of a more “open” business culture here in the U.S. exciting. I decided to live and work in this specific town in the South East U.S. because I thought it was one of the most accepting of cultural differences…I was raised in places that were not….where most people are still very wary of “strangers.” Years ago, I drafted a business idea to provide a business “guide” service to the South Eastern U.S. territory.

    My service would provide concierge/liason and business culture education services for those unfamiliar with and lacking connections in the territory.

    I think of this service as “business ambassadors,” to the South East U.S. My partner and I both grew up here, went to university here, and have conducted business extensively in the South East for over 20 years…There are definitively cultural and logistical “obstacles” and adversities for those wanting to do business here…trust is a major factor in doing business here – anywhere for that matter -and a local “representative” could be invaluable to new comers…

    Perhaps this is a good time to launch this idea??? I would love to take the concept nationwide…I like to think doing so would be contributing to positive changes for all of us.

    I am currently looking for government grants or programs that I could link with…