From Esther Clark’s article “Seemingly Bad Ideas” published April 2016.
If you set your goals ridiculously high and it’s a failure, you will fail above everyone else’s success.
Earlier this year I opened an article with an interpretation of a line from Arthur Ransome’s book Swallows and Amazons: “Better dead than duffers.” I have studied the cult of failure as part of my consulting practice and to help my clients understand how and if “fail fast, fail often” makes for a higher overall result.
I have spent the last week on vacation and continue to see this topic pop up in business articles, TED talks, presentation and discussions within my social networks. If you have the opportunity, pick up the December issue of Harvard Business Review where research around the “80% of companies that existed before 1980 are no longer around” idea is well diagnosed and ties into the discussion of creative destruction and “fail fast fail often”.
The purpose of this post today is a short reminder that mistakes are the “necessary evil” (as PIXAR’s Ed Catmull says) of companies who innovate, transform and disrupt. The evil or pain from the failure becomes less when value is extracted from the experience. Think about it.
Do you remember having skinned knees as a child while trying to ride your bike or learn to rollerskate? Did the pain lessen when you first took the freeing ride on your own?
Failure in business is exactly like that. If you extract maximum value from failure than although you might not have “failed fast” or don’t want to “fail often” you will have maximized the overall result of the project or the innovation bringing benefits to your organization.
All the best in 2017! May this coming year be filled with health, wealth and happiness.
I started my own business at the tender age of 13. I hired my first employee at the age of 15. I have gone through formal and informal business training. I have taken entrepreneurship courses, spoken to entrepreneurs, competed in business plan competitions and seen all my life’s savings disappear in a matter of a few years.
Entrepreneurship is difficult. I would welcome the opportunity to speak to anyone who tells you differently. Even entrepreneurs who have endless capital to burn still face uncertainty and daily challenges. Owning your own business is an endless challenge, an endless opportunity to improve yourself as well as those around you, and an endless journey that is not guaranteed to end successfully. For entrepreneurs, business is them and they are the business.
I mention that entrepreneurship is the bug that keeps on biting. From the many articles and books on the subject one would concur that entrepreneurship is not an attractive affair. Failure rates are high. Burn out rates are too. Families are torn apart. Yet what is it about entrepreneurship that keep the entrepreneur going despite all adversity?
The answer is complex. Perhaps a common theme in entrepreneurship is the opportunity to make a difference, the opportunity to create a destiny, the opportunity to place your mark upon the world.
Entrepreneurship is a beautiful expression of what it means to be human and to be “creative”. As babies we are born wanting to create. Some people express this through art others hide their impulses in order to fit into stereotypes or expectations that people have of them around them. Entrepreneurship is creation. And I guess that is why we want the bug to keep on biting…so we can continue to have the opportunity to create and make an impact on the world!
There is a culture of failure inherent in entrepreneurship and in intrapreneurship (entrepreneurship within a larger organization or company). This culture is summed up in Silicon Valley’s startup mantra of “Fail fast. Fail often.” Failure is often celebrated by entrepreneurs and innovation experts as a way to get to success. A badge of honor to testify that they tried and failed before getting to the next big idea.
There is truth in this concept: in order to create something new or make unexpected connections between things, one has to embrace failure. In education, embracing failure is fundamental for students to take risks with their learning and the way they see the world and interact with it.
Should failure be celebrated? What happens when failure has tangible financial and opportunity costs for business not to mention its impact on entrepreneurs, their families and their friends. What happens when we have different ideas of failure? Has someone failed just because they don’t fit in with what society wants from them?
One of the best analogies of entrepreneurship is: “Starting a business is a lot like jumping out of an airplane and assembling the parachute on the way down.” But what happens around the entrepreneur?
In a series of articles, I will explore the question of failure and entrepreneurship and share with you stories from the entrepreneurship (and intrapreneurship) scene around me. Check out the hashtag #resilientwife to find out more about this new endeavor of mine.
Obviously, entrepreneurs want to talk about failure in the context of success – a sort of rite of passage or journey to creating something of value. Understandingly, no one wants to be defined as a failure or be told that their business is a failure. Here lies the challenge…to represent failure, entrepreneurship and resilience accurately.
We have heard the phrase “too big to fail” in the context of companies that are so big and so tied to the economy of a country that their failure would have disastrous national consequences. Some of these companies do fail, making the phrase a tongue-in-cheek epithet and also a severe lesson for many on the transient nature of business.
My partner always reminds me that no one or no business is irreplaceable. What gives a person or organization value in the world of business is being able to solve a problem in a way that their competitor cannot. The idea is to do business with people “who believe what you believe” as Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why, would say.
So what does niceness have to do with this notion of failure and the transient nature of business? Can someone be “too nice to lead” or is this a construct that should be challenged just as business as usual was challenged by the most recent social entrepreneur and conscious capitalism movements in the last decade?
When I was a child, I used to think about business leaders in much the same way as they are portrayed in the Mary Poppins movie – male bankers who live in fancy concrete buildings, care about ROI and are not too pleased with seeing money spent on “feeding the birds”. But I also had a secret desire to see a business person flying a kite! The key then and now is humanizing business and showing that the people leading the business understand human dreams and challenges and use business to help develop or solve those things their stakeholders care about. Can leaders do this successfully without empathy, without compassion and without “niceness”?
Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education has published articles on the link between business and forgiveness as well as business and compassion. Niceness is a positive trait in leaders because it creates a sense of engagement, helps build both personal and corporate brands and fosters loyalty amongst employees, clients and stakeholders. Niceness is a negative trait, on the other hand, if it undermines other values in the workplace such fairness, productivity and value creation; if it stops leaders from breaking down social structures to make the organization work better or encourage innovation.
Niceness therefore is a positive leadership trait when it humanizes the leader, makes him or her memorable but does not compromise what is best for stakeholders and the business. As we move towards customization across various industries it follows that leaders – and the brands they represent – need to be more in touch with their stakeholders and the world around them. If success means creating and maintaining a strong connection with people in and around your business and appealing to the very basic and simple human principles of dignity and of understanding, then “too nice to lead” may just become a tongue-in-cheek epithet of a bygone leader.
Optimist: Someone who figures that taking a step backwards after taking a step forward is not a disaster, it´s more like the Cha Cha.