Fear, Failure and Duffers

“Better dead than duffers,” my father used to say as we set off for the latest family adventure: a two hour sail on a stormy afternoon on Canada’s West Coast of Canada or a train trip across India. The expression, an interpretation of lines from Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons, has stayed with me many years – and many miles – later.*

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Last year I studied the cult of failure as part of my consulting practice. How failure is idealized in start-up culture and how it impacts entrepreneurs and society in general. On the positive side, when there is no fear of failure, there tends to be more risk and more openness to trying something new. “Innovation” is attributed to facing failure and questioning paradigms to make something work.

What is interesting in all my research on the topic is that “innovation” happens not because there is no fear of failure but rather, innovation occurs because there is no fear. No fear. Period.

Speaking in the positive, freedom to experiment, make unexpected connections between things, take risks, spend money (or not look to make money with an invention), be bold, be courageous is what characterizes entrepreneurs. Fear is the “thing” that entrepreneurship culture (and every entrepreneur) takes on with each new venture, product, service or innovation.

So when pondering failure, it is not fear of failure that stops me from doing something but fear itself. Fear makes us “duffers” and therefore, abstractly speaking, it might be better to be dead (dead to innovation, experimentation, life, love, etc) than to live a life unlived.

Stay tuned for more info on entrepreneurship and strategy – two seemingly opposite concepts that are a powerful duo present in many high growth companies.

  • EMC

 

*The exact phrase is: “better drowned than duffers. If not duffers won’t drown.” Arthur Ransome: Swallows and Amazons.

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