Forget about Australia’s ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’. What we really need is a ‘Small Poppy Syndrome’.
“Australians aren’t very entrepreneurial. It’s not our fault. It’s the ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’.”
I’ve heard this repeatedly throughout my life and recently it’s been causing me to grit my teeth and shake my head. It’s an excuse. It’s an old one. And it’s time to move on.
Tall poppy? It originally meant ‘removing’ the most senior people in a society to bring balance. In Australia, it has come to represent a resentment of the success of others. But in this context, that’s just one side of the story.
The real impact on entrepreneurialism is when someone decides not to pursue even a minor ambition for fear of persecution by ‘others’. It means, “Don’t try and succeed because your friends might not think well of you”
What do you do with friends like that? Ditch them and find better friends, obviously, though it’s not that easy. Australian culture is founded on mateship. We care about what our friends think of us and we’re risk-averse. Just keep your head down and be like everyone else.
Being like everyone else would be fine if everyone else was ambitious. But they’re not. The norm is complacency and mediocrity. Why? Because life is good enough, isn’t it? Why try harder? Why take risks? You might fail and then everyone would point at you and say, “See. That’s why I don’t try.”
So that’s the end game. We’d prefer to be like our friends and most of our friends aren’t ambitious. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s changing, but too slowly. We can change it faster. And when I say ‘we’ I mean all Australians, but I particularly mean you. If you’ve read this far, I’m assuming you’re ambitious, you’ve got integrity (hopefully) and you think you can affect change.
You’re a tall poppy, not because you are a success but because you are trying to be a success. You have ambitions to be better and make the world a better place. Now you just need to be openly, boisterously proud of it. You don’t have to rah-rah it. Just don’t hide it away. And not just to those you know won’t mock you. It has to be at the next football game, BBQ or girls’ night out.
“Life’s great, thanks. But I really want this year to be a big one. I’m going to nail it.
But I’m not leaving it there. Let’s switch it around. If the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ keeps us all down, we need a ‘short poppy syndrome’ to lift us up. A stronger and more pervasive attitude that singles out those of us who aren’t even trying to succeed. A constructive, mate-to-mate and dryly satirical way of pointing out that just being as good as everyone else is no longer enough.
“Mate, what’s going on? You’ve been doing that job for two years. What’s next? Where are you going? Don’t give me that ‘short poppy’ rubbish, get off the couch and do it. No, not tomorrow, now!”
We also need an eagerness to celebrate failure. As long as you got up and gave it a go, then that’s OK. You can’t win them all, and if you are then you’re just not stretching yourself. Acknowledge it, ponder it and get on with it. If you see someone lying, smiling, on the dusty floor of an epic-FAIL, reach down and make sure that tall-poppy tries again.
It’s that simple. Be loud and proud to be a tall poppy. Refer to those lacking some ambition as ‘short poppies’. Be as boastful of failures as of successes. So be the leader you are and get on with it. Your country needs you.
Mick Liubinskas is one of Australia’s leading web strategists, having served in head marketing roles at Kazaa, Zapr and Tangler. He now runs Pollenizer, the business incubator he co-founded with former-Kazaa colleague Phil Morle.