21 September 2019
Startup entrepreneurs Data Ng (left) and Ricky Leung say Hong Kong must overcome fear of failure to succeed in the field of innovation. Photo: RTHK
Startup entrepreneurs Data Ng (left) and Ricky Leung say Hong Kong must overcome fear of failure to succeed in the field of innovation. Photo: RTHK

Fear of failure hampers HK innovation

Few would disagree that Hong Kong needs to develop new industries to generate fresh economic momentum and new sources of growth. But how?

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying thinks creating an innovation and technology bureau is the answer. Some scholars believe we have to start with our education system.

Rather than schools that merely pass on knowledge, we need colleges and universities that emphasize problem solving and encourage students to create new products and come up with new ideas.

Also, the kind of university-industry collaboration that works well in the Silicon Valley model has to be more widely practiced in Hong Kong.

Startup entrepreneurs Data Ng and Ricky Leung think what Hong Kong people truly lack is the guts to accept failure and move on.

“For hugely successful stories like Facebook, Jack Ma or WhatsApp to emerge, there’s got to be a lot of failed attempts by other people,” Ng told RTHK in an interview.

For them, innovation is basically about lots of trials before success is reached.

But in Hong Kong society, failure is still very much seen as a highly undesirable thing. This attitude is a planet away from Silicon Valley’s “fail fast, fail often” mentality.

“Failure is not only invoked but celebrated. Entrepreneurs give speeches detailing their misfires. Academics laud the virtue of making mistakes. FailCon, a conference about embracing failure launched in San Francisco in 2009, is now an annual event,” journalist Rory Carroll wrote in The Guardian.

FailCon has now gone global; it is being held in over a dozen cities across the world.

“Hong Kong is a society that dreads failure,” Ng noted. “This is the fundamental we need to change.”

While based in Hong Kong, Ng and Leung have set up an office in Shenzhen’s Qianhai. Lower tax and cheaper rentals are part of the draw, but they are basically attracted by the special economic zone’s accommodating culture.

Mainland people are in general more open to the idea of starting a business. They are more courageous when it comes to trying something new, Ng said.

The Qianhai Shenzhen-Hong Kong Youth Innovation and Entrepreneur Hub, where their office is located, organizes regular activities for startup entrepreneurs to gather together.

“They have this Friday happy hour thing, where we can meet lots of experienced people and hear lots of new ideas,” Ng said.

Being in China also allows Ng to get a closer look at the mainland market and understand its business practices.

After all, that’s where they plan to produce and sell their 3D printing equipment.

Trials and failures may be inevitable in one’s pursuit of success, but Leung admitted that repeated flops could dent self-confidence.

“Self- doubt can easily happen. There’s a lot of psychological pressure,” he said.

“I am lucky to have Data as my partner,” Leung said, noting that it’s important for them to support each other especially during tough times.

They have also set a two-year deadline for them to find out if their idea really works.

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EJ Insight writer