Currently writing up a dissertation on venture capital in Ireland to complete my MBA at DIT, I have had to do a bit of reading over the summer to collect material.
One of the books I read was called Innovation and the State by Dan Breznitz, a professor at The Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Tech in the U.S. Published in 2007, the book compares the rapid and relatively recent development of Ireland, Israel and Taiwan. A chapter is devoted to each country, and each chapter is preceded by a quote.
Here are the three quotes.
- Like old soldiers, old R&D projects never die. There is always the sequel.
- If you want to build something new where nothing was before, go to the U.S. If you want to build something that would last for 20 years, to to Japan. If you want to work successfully under always-changing conditions and changing regulatory systems, go to Taiwan.
- Trying to induce private entrepreneurship in Ireland during the 1980s made me feel like I was part of the old lobster joke: A young man goes to the beach, he sees an old fisherman with two untied lobsters in a very low bucket. He says to the fisherman, “Your lobsters are not tied and the bucket is very low. Won’t they run away?” The fisherman replies, “Don’t worry, these are Irish lobsters! As soon as one of them almost makes it to freedom the other jumps and drags him back down.”
I could take issue with Breznitz for his choice of quotes about the three countries. But I won’t for now.
Instead, let’s look at what was said: We got two serious quotes from policy makers in Israel and Taiwan, and one stupid-as-shit joke from a former IDA executive in Ireland.
Is this the kind of crap that passes as self-deprecating wit amongst the Irish “elite”?
Because I am supposing that overpaid joker meant the two lobsters were Irish entrepreneurs and that he was the fisherman. That same “elite” then tells this “anecdotal joke” as an example of the Irish “fighting amongst themselves.” Then the whole stinking pile is dressed up as self-deprecating wit.
I have worked with a number of entrepreneurs in this country, and I can honestly say I have never seen them exhibit that kind of behavior towards each other. In fact, when I attended the Endeavour Programme (@endeavourbiz) earlier this year, I met dozens of start up owners genuinely interested in each other’s projects and successes.
I was speaking recently with someone in the VC industry in Ireland, and the same point was made. If an Irish company makes it in Silicon Valley, they will often help others break in there, too. Direct competitors may be more circumspect around each other, but entrepreneurs in general realize they are all in the same boat.
But an awful lot can still be read in to the lobster joke — if you re-imagine the characters. First off, we make the fisherman a disinterested outsider like Breznitz. Then one of the lobsters is an ordinary Irish man or woman going about their business. Finally, the second lobster is one of our “leaders.” That is to say someone in the Roman Catholic church, a bankster, bureaucrat or a politician — someone with a vested interested in making sure no one gets uppity and stays where they belong.
And look how well those other groups have fared. With the exception of a bureaucracy that rewards failure, all have imploded under the weight of their own corruption and ineptitude. And is it any wonder? Look at the quality of our “leaders.” One of the kindest descriptions I have heard called banking executives “faintly dim former rugby players.”
I spent 15 years in the States working for large and small companies. During my time there, I met people who built up companies or ran large organizations. I was impressed by many — but not all — of them because of their accomplishments.
While there notable exceptions in Ireland, our “betters” — some of whom are of above-average intelligence — hide their mediocrity behind airs and graces.
In fairness to Breznitz, it is clear he spent some time here and spoke to many of the “elite” during his stay. He identified strengths, weaknesses and dissonance in the Irish system. Perhaps his problem was that he spoke with too many of the “leaders.” He should have spoken with some innovators and entrepreneurs at the coalface — people who get ahead despite the efforts of their “betters.”
Image of lobster by Gary Sutherland on Flickr.