What Berlin Taught Me

I’ve spent this week in Berlin being humbled by the history of systematic violence and terror perpetrated by the Nazi regime. Berlin was decimated by World War II. It’s lengthy crawl back is a classic example of how emotions are innately linked to economic and social good.

The Nazi party gained power at a time when six million Germans were unemployed. These conditions created enough desperation for the country to be swept into a rapid dictatorship. After Hitler was toppled the post war depression forced Berliners into a spiral of distrust and resentment which spurred on decades of unrest.

Today Berlin is a hotbed of creativity; proliferated with start-ups. It has emerged from the rumbles with a a unique identity that says “anything is possible”.

I was fortunate enough to stay with SpotPanda (www.spotpanda.com). A Wedding based start-up creating a marketplace for individuals to create and sell travel guides. During my visit we got into a conversation on the merits of faith versus goals – which being the right path to follow. As a serial start-up entrepreneur I have come to the conclusion that realism leads to mediocracy while being overly optimist can lead to bankruptcy.  It is said “The intelligent investor is a realist who sells to optimists and buys from pessimists’. I take this to heart and so for me, I put faith a close second to goals. And I think Berlin does too.

I am mindful  of my propensity to be overly optimistic. I surround myself with people who are  detail orientated and prone to negativity. I confess I believe my  faith has played a huge role in helping me shape and build a growing global business. If I hadn’t trusted the vision and the process, I’d have returned to work 2 months after starting Give What You’re Good At. The company has seen many iterations and pivots, and will likely see many more. For me, learning to accept this impermanence is the bedrock of  good business practice.

To come back to faith, in many instances no one except the founders have believed in many, NOW, household brands. Dyson pitched  to hundreds of VC’s but never succeeded. The success of Dyson is the result of the efforts, beliefs and feelings of the founder and team.

But can optimism be bad for us? Did Berliners really believe Hitler was the answer to their prayers? Blind faith can have grave human cost. Berlin stands as a living testament to the importance of democracy and equilibrium.

Equilibrium is everything. It’s what nature counts on. It’s what our bodies count on, our minds and our economy. Yes, it’s always more enjoyable to look on the bright side of life…but if in business, I implore you to surround yourself with those adopting a more negative viewpoint. The iteration will help you deliver a great product or service. Just imagine the pain and suffering that could have been spared had Hitler surrounded himself with “No Men” instead of “Yes Men”.


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