Tall poppy syndrome

20 September 2021

High profile entrepreneurs have different strategies for coping with unwanted attention.

When people's conspicuous success elevates or distinguishes them, others can be envious and try to cut them down to size. This is known as the Tall Poppy syndrome and it is an important element of New Zealand's culture. The government has been promoting entrepreneurship by developing a form of celebrity status through awards and high-profile events, but this assumes that entrepreneurs are perceived positively in society. This approach may be compromised by the culture.

Jo Kirkwood (Otago Polytechnic) and Lorraine Warren (Massey University) studied 11 New Zealand celebrity entrepreneurs to investigate whether they experience Tall Poppy syndrome, and if so how they deal with that. Ten of the 11 entrepreneurs had experienced Tall Poppy syndrome. They used a range of different coping strategies:

  • Accept that it is not something they can change
  • Focus on positive comments and ignore detractors
  • Stop reading online comments altogether
  • De-personalise criticism, blaming the detractors
  • Fight back by calling out criticism (although one person found this counter-productive)
  • Network closely with other entrepreneurs for support
  • Educate others about entrepreneurship

This study can help other entrepreneurs to identify and adopt one or more strategies to help them manage unwanted attention. The findings are also relevant for policy-makers, who need to take into account processes of social legitimacy in New Zealand when seeking to encourage entrepreneurship.


April 2020