American diplomats get an education by engaging with the people, politics, and panoramas of Sweden.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Blog Om: 1, 2, 3, 4, Fail.

When I was at the Open Room e-government conference recently, I saw the folks from Verksamt whom I had first met back in Malmo at the big EU e-government ministerial during the Swedish EU presidency. The Verksamt web service offers a one-stop destination for entrepreneurs to find resources and tools they’ll need when going through the various stages of building a business.

The front page of their portal divides the process into five easy steps. The first four are what I think any American entrepreneur would expect: 1) Considering; 2) Starting Up; 3) Running; and 4) Developing & Growing.

But when I came to 5 I did a double-take. In the English version of the site it said: 5) Closing Down.

That must be a mistranslation. I asked, and we discussed the Swedish word. Nope. This was indeed about shutting down. As I looked closer at that section, it said: “Do you want to stop? This section gives you tips about closing down your business.”

At the embassy, we held sessions on starting up a business before and during President Obama’s Summit on Entrepreneurship, and did indeed talk about the importance of failure. If failure is counted against an entrepreneur by bankers or venture capitalists it can have a very bad effect since many successful ones start with a few duds before they have a hit. And, to be certain, the American system proudly acknowledges failure as an inherent and even healthy part of the process of innovation.

But talking about shutting down a business on the same page where you are encouraging citizens to start one strikes me as counterproductive. My guess is that the American approach would either be to not mention it at all or call it “Exit Strategy” and frame it as selling it to someone else.

I mentioned this to my Verksamt friends and got many nods of agreement. Yes, that probably is the American way. But there was no indication that they were considering any changes to their site. After all, closing down is statistically something that happens a lot.

Is this just a case of lagom in action, accounting for sustainability and practicality? Or is it a bit like talking about divorce on a site that is helping you prepare for marriage? Or both?