Here is the secret: starting a new business carries many of the same challenges as uprooting your life and moving to a new country- this is why expat experience is good for entrepreneurs. I believe my own personal experience may shed some light on this question of being familiar with unfamiliarity.
To begin with, moving and immigrating to a new country means starting from scratch: learning an entirely new language, separating from loved ones, figuring out how to navigate in an unfamiliar culture, re-establishing the basics (including shelter, employment & health insurance) and creating a new community.
Therein lies the secret: starting a new business carries many of the same challenges as uprooting your life and moving to a new country. Entrepreneurs need to learn the new “language” of business and finance, navigate the cultural nuances of commerce, industry, effective networking and separate themselves from the crowd in order to seek out new endeavors. In short, both experiences require peak levels of resourcefulness and a persevering spirit to power through non-stop challenges and new territories. In other words, being familiar with unfamiliarity.
So, how can expat entrepreneurs best leverage the experience gained as a “stranger in a strange land” to help in their long, grueling startup journey?
What does it take for expats to be successful in their assignments? This study set out to define the characteristics that make for successful expatriates.
- Adventurousnessis defined as the expat’s desire to have exciting and new experiences, both at work and in life outside of work.
- Cultural Sensitivityis defined as the expat’s ability to understand the culture in which they are living and working, and to integrate/fit into it.
- Curiosityis the expat’s interest in learning about their new culture, environment and job. Being inquisitive and curious was frequently listed as contributing to success.
- Flexibilityis the expat’s willingness to try new ways of doing things. As in being flexible on the methodology, while remaining focused on delivering results within the allotted time is essential. Each country and job has a different way of doing things, flexibility is key.
- Open Mindednessis the expat’s ability to look at their new environment with a desire to learn and understand it with an interest in seeing things differently. Willingness to try new methods and accepting failure as a means to learn and improve.
While all characteristics were individually seen as important, flexibility and open mindedness were ranked most highly.
So, what are your thoughts on this? You being an expat yourself- how does this all resonate with you?
Gotten curious? Hungry for more?
Great! I collected some great over the Summer reading articles serving as food for thought for you:
- The International Entrepreneur
- Highly effective multicultural teams
- Why cultural competence is one of seven success factors for ‘glocal’ business
- 5 Reasons Expats Make Great Entrepreneurs
Are you up for some out-of-the-box thinking for expatpreneurs?
During the last FIGT – conference, I felt so inspired by Elizabeth Douet‘s speech at her excellent workshop. She really opened my eyes to what is possible in this shared economy. For example, close your eyes and picture yourself living in a lovely house surrounded by lavender and sunflowers in the countryside of Tuscany. Your children are begging you for a treehouse, but where do you find skilled people who won’t charge you outrageous prices? Now, think creatively- you offer them free stay and delicious Italian meals in return for their labour. Clearly, a win-win and maybe even a long lasting friendship.
Great! Now here’s an exercise for you:
Create a list of 10 “out-of-the-box” items by asking yourself things like: What languages do you speak and how can you offer those skills to someone else facing language difficulties? Maybe offer these skills via Face Time, Whatsapp or Skype? How about offering city tours with themes (music, history, scenic, local products) by bike or walking day/night? Why not collect fresh fish on the way and create a lovely home cooked meal? Speaking of cooking, why not prepare meals twice a week?
- Pick 1 item
- Ask yourself: Where will I be one year from now with this item?
All warmed up now, here are some more to come to really get you going:
Now, I’m curious, where is the expatpreneur in you? Please let me know!
So where ever you are, I’m wishing you a playful time exploring your own out-of-the-box thinking and reflecting.
Stay Cool, Henriëtte