Worship idols or learn from role models?

Olaf Jacobi
Nov 23, 2019 · 2 min read

Does it help to hang pictures of Elon Musk or Steve Jobs in the office? Or is it a remnant of pubertal behavior when people hung posters of Superman or pop singers in their children’s rooms between the ages of 12 and 15?

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I don’t know any people who could fly later. I don’t know of any leading entrepreneurs or managers who have a photo of Lee Iacocca, Jack Welch, Werner von Siemens, Karl Heinz Nixdorf or Hasso Plattner hanging in their offices.

Since I myself have a very critical attitude towards following role models, I wanted to get to the bottom of the matter and have produced an unrepresentative and non-scientific study.

I asked 15 successful German startup founders/entrepreneurs (CEOs and CTOs) of fast-growing or successfully sold tech companies if and which role models they had. The answer was sobering. One CTO has a former professor as a role model, another will have himself as a role model in about 5 years. All others have no role models.

One of the quotes from the survey:

“I don’t believe in role models. Inspirations — yes. But each business and situation is different, entrepreneurship is about finding solutions to hard problems where no blueprint exists yet.”

There are voices screaming “We need entrepreneurs like Elon or Steve! For me, the answer is quite simple. We need people with ideas, entrepreneurs who dare. They should not run after role models but do their own thing. Of course we all let ourselves be inspired by other people.

But do we get better if you hang idols in your office, use faces as screensavers or read the twentieth biography of a Silicon Valley founder? I don’t know for sure, but I don’t know any examples.

These role models have solved problems and created innovations in their time. What is your inspiration? What is your innovation?

Well, take it as food for thoughts…

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