When Being Comfortable is Being Mediocre

A friend was speaking about how Bangladeshi people were less enterprising than Western people and it actually didn’t make sense then. So I listened. Later on, I wondered about “risk” and what kind of people are likely to engage in the undertaking the risk of starting a new business. That can be fairly easily answered, one who can finance their idea. That didn’t hold particularly true for Bangladesh. There exists a mismatch between those holding the money and those holding ideas.

Why are there fewer wealthier people in Bangladesh having fewer innovative ideas? Maybe a partial answer can be found in understanding the people’s perception of and attitude to risk.

A few facts to keep a track of before I begin though.

  • Bangladesh GNI per capita2014: $1,080
  • Bangladesh GNI per capita (current international dollars)2014: $3,340 (source)
  • US GNI per capita2014: $55,200
  • US GNI per capita (current international dollars)2014: $55,860 (source)

The figures for GNI per capita are for a year’s worth of income. In both the countries, that much per year is not very comfortable. In America, making twice that much per year is alright; in Bangladesh making ten times that amount is on par with “alright”.

The picture presented to any person is this: In America, most jobs will pay you twice to four times the average (assuming you graduate and have a normal career progression); in Bangladesh, a lot of jobs pay you around 4 times the national average within a few months after you begin working.

If a person earns the national average in one month, that person will likely end up with

  • an over-inflated ego
  • a dulled drive to want to do better

Let’s take a closer look at the second one, there is nothing to be said about the first one.

The overwhelming of the graduate degree holders in Bangladesh aim to get comfortable in life (I made the same point in my last post). And comfortable means holding a steady paying job. Hence once the job is landed, many do not look beyond what is paying them to be comfortable. Nothing wrong with that per sé, it just means that “innovation” as a whole suffers. Add to that a culture that promotes risk aversion in thought and behavior.

There are some changes. A start up support environment is growing in Bangladesh, Dhaka particularly, although that environment is a very niche system where navigating into and staying within poses its own set(s) of challenges.

The vast majority, though, still prefer to play it safe and play by the “rules” that are enforced by senior figureheads of society. By itself, this is not necessarily a bad thing, although it does make for a rather boring economy (like the USA between ~1945 – ~1970, it was stable and boring, now it is unstable but very lively; can we have both? In a word, yes.)

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