From Esther Clark’s article “Seemingly Bad Ideas” published April 2016.
“People who don’t take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year. People who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year.” – Peter Drucker
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.
Called ontological design, it is a concept that considers how context and environment shape our ideas. Spaces where we work impact our work. Colors make us feel more creative or more restricted in our thinking. Furniture design can impact how we interact with our clients. Spaces with hammocks and green plants can help employees feel playful and encourage new ideas and approaches.Where we do business affects how we do business (and vice versa).
Our experiences are subjective and they can be influenced by our environment. I am reminded of a quote by the famous Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan who said:
We often talk about this quote in terms of technology, yet there is so much more to what McLuhan says here. We are natural creators, born to create but also born to become part of the reality we construct and influence with our art, science and business.
Have you had an AH HA moment lately? You know, a light bulb moment, a moment of sudden inspiration, recognition or insight into a problem. Maybe it’s time to take a walk, read a book, start a conversation. Human beings are creators – let’s create great work, art, organizations and communities! AH HA.
Last year I read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. It’s a non-fiction book that was on most of the bestseller lists in the United States and Canada in 2012 and early 2013. Cain does a great job at explaining how introverts can contribute to a more creative, empathetic, reflective and – in one word – balanced society.
The thing about “quiet” people is that they are not actually quiet. As Carl Jung (Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist who founded analytical psychology and the introvert/extrovert theory) says, introversion and extroversion are extremes opposites and most people fall somewhere between the two: “There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum.”
And that’s why I think we can learn from the “quiet” person just as much as we can learn from the “noisy” one. The challenge is that we are overwhelmed by noise that the valuable qualities of “quiet” people are sometimes overlooked. Hence the imbalance in society and one of Cain’s central tenants in her book and “quiet” revolution.
So what have I learnt from the “quiet” person in the room?
#1. Listening combats isolation
As counterintuitive as it may sound, the best listeners – and usually the quietest person in the room – are less likely to feel the same isolation as vocally assertive extroverts. They are focused on listening rather than talking. They don’t seal themselves off from other people waiting for their next moment to talk. They listen and empathize and, in time, their listening abilities bring them to the real meaning of the conversation and the concern, fears, hopes and wishes of those they listen to.
#2. Empathy and diversity of thought leads to better decision making
Groupthink, “yes” men/women, status quo – all are results of lack of diversity in decision making. By involving more points of view, we are better able to represent the interests of our stakeholders. Quiet people, because of their empathetic nature, tend to see more points of view and can challenge groupthink if they are given the right opportunity. (For more info on how to do this visit Cain’s blog – there are some excellent articles on how to involve introverts in decision making and creative processes).
#3. It’s not always about charisma
In workplaces today, there is an emphasis on collaboration which can sometimes lead to groupthink as mentioned above. The solution is diversity of thought and to appreciate ideas not from where they come from (i.e. rank, title, popularity) but on their own merit. Charisma is not always the trait of the best leader – see Simon Sinek’s Leaders Eat Last – but it does seem to characterize today’s leader.
Cain states that while charismatic leaders may earn bigger paychecks, they do not have better corporate performance. Quiet people have equally creative and valuable ideas that may not be heard. The best ideas are not always the loudest ones.
In closing, there is untapped potential in the “quiet” person that we can only begin to benefit from if we start to balance introversion and extroversion in our organizations. Extroversion has been the ideal for too long.
Malcolm Gladwell (author of David and Goliath, Outliers, The Tipping Point) said in an interview a few years ago that our impressions of people are usually more positive than reality. If we hear a deep velvety voice on the radio we tend to associate it with a “deep velvety” persona – whatever our interpretation of that may be. Has it ever happened to you that you have met a radio personality in person and there is a mismatch with what you imagined?
We choose information to fill in the blanks.
In business, we also choose information to fill in the blanks and our bias sometimes gives us a polarized impression of what a marketplace or a customer is about. We can never have perfect data and certainly there is value in shipping “less than perfect” because awaiting perfection might mean we miss out on the opportunity altogether.
Quotes like these make me smile and nod my head in agreement:
If you see a bandwagon, it’s too late. – James Goldsmith
If you are not embarrassed by the 1st version of your product, you’ve launched too late.– Reid Hoffman
So as entrepreneurs and business people we have to fill in the blanks in order to get our product or service out there, to get it into the hands of customers in new markets and to guess how it’s being purchased, used and talked about. Consulting firms, like Hipona Consulting, can help you with business intelligence and connections in the marketplace but there still will be gaps that have to be filled with assumptions, associations and creativity.
Now the flipside…
The question that might be interesting to consider is this: looking from the customer viewpoint is it more valuable for your brand to have more reality based impressions (based on information) or fill-in –the- blanks-imagination based impressions?
I would argue that it needs to be a beautiful mix of the two. That a company provides enough information to create customers and yet leaves a little to the imagination…