Failing in Germany

Don’t get me wrong here, I love living in Germany, especially in my beloved hometown Munich. Germany excels in a lot of aspects – we have a great health system, sophisticated public security, beautiful landscapes etc. – we’re doing pretty good.

But there are some things we really can improve.

One of those is the almost legendary “failure culture” or, as it appears here, the: “better don’t fail culture”.

It’s true, failing is everything but accepted in our quite perfectionist culture. By excellent planning, we strive to achieve everything we want with the first shot, because we run it through a sometimes semi realistic testing environment hundreds of times before rollout. If a project or a business then nevertheless fails, it is considered as a shame and a huge, almost irreparable failure.

Luckily, this is changing slowly.

The Silicon Valley “way of failing” is making its way to our German minds. When we take a look on the incredible businesses and visionaries working and prospering in Silicon Valley, we really could adapt and learn some things from them.
One very important acknowledgement is, that achieving excellence and greatness is an iterative process. Trial and Error is the buzzword here. We need to run through the same process over and over again, expecting different or better results. What Einstein historically defines as madness (maybe he’s the reason for our mindset in that matter…;)) must be an integral part of starting up a business.

What is completely natural in the experimental culture of America is, in Germany, often already hindered by the massive load of bureaucratic administration processes related to a business start up and – whats even more problematic – the failure of a business. Downgrades in credit ranks, loss in credibility, loss of motivation etc.

It’s common knowledge, that creating a business from scratch and building it up is a massive project that requires tons of work and, more importantly, experience as well as stress resistance. How should young, ambitious but not entirely mature people, e.g. freshly from university, gather that experience, if the whole process of failing in Germany is so long and dishonorable?

Fail fast, fail often is the characteristic style of Silicon Valley – and a main reason for its success. The less time passes between a (small or bigger) failure the more solutions and better ideas can be made up by learning from these mistakes. A mistake is nothing bad, as long as it is not made twice.

A common misconception is, that the opposite of success is failure – that couldn’t be more wrong. The opposite of success is not trying at all, being scared of consequences and therefore letting slip great ideas away.

Now, I have to be fair here. The German correct and bureaucratic way is not entirely bad. It is very important to be correct with business closing processes, debt paying lawsuits etc. to maintain law and order. A lack in bureaucratic processes and correctness could be an accusation against some practices in the US (or elsewhere), too.


I really think that our start-up and business culture in general could be a little more failure oriented and failure tolerant. If we want to keep pace with the Silicon Valley – and we want that since we strive to maintain our worldwide known position in innovation and technology – we will have to adapt some of the paradigms and techniques of them. We do not need a revolution, but a little change in mindset indeed.

I would be really interested in what you think about that topic!

Kind regards


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