A recent NPR story I heard on the drive home from work really caught my attention. It was called “Failure: The F-Word Silicon Valley Loves and Hates” and it’s worth a listen at just under 10 minutes long. Failure has certainly been a part of my own journey as I discussed in this interview with IdeaMensch. While failure has mostly negative connotations associated with it, I don’t think it is something we should be afraid of as entrepreneurs (or even as people in general). I love how Winston Churchill put it when he said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
For a deeper perspective on the subject, I asked around for some ideas on how failure can be leveraged to find success, what role failure plays in an entrepreneurs life, how to recover from failure, etc. Whether you are an entrepreneur yourself, or someone who is working toward a goal and has seen a few setbacks, these answers will give you some food for thought to help you reach your ultimate goal. Don’t give up!
View Failures as Great Sources of Data
Contributed by: Scott Berkun, bestselling author of The Myths of Innovation
Any entrepreneur should realize how many different kinds of failure there are and that any successful entrepreneur in history failed in various ways before they became successful. There is too much to learn in doing new ventures for anyone, no matter how smart, to get it right the first, or third time, without major failures along the way. If you have a long term view of your life, which you should, failures are great sources of data. You have a chance to learn things you couldn’t have learned any other way about your team, your industry, or yourself. As long as you are able to learn from your failures, your odds of success the next time only go up, as you know things your competitors haven’t learned yet.
Learn from Trial and Error
Contributed by: Scott Porad, Chief Technology Officer, Cheezburger Network
Every failure has fueled my successes because I’m the type of person who learns from trial-and-error. The key to that way of learning is by intentionally observing what isn’t working, and correcting for it the next time around. At Cheezburger, this has manifested itself in large and small ways. A small example would be that once we had a project go off in the wrong direction because we didn’t get clear strategic buy-in before we started, so now we always do a strategy review before we begin. A large example would be that at a previous job, our design and development teams reported into different parts of the organization causing our efforts often to be misaligned, so now we have our design and development as part of the same team.
Fail Fast and Assess Patterns
Contributed by: Danielle Morrill, Danielle Morrill, CEO & Cofounder of Referly
Failure itself isn’t a good thing, but the lessons learned from failing can be. Entrepreneurs are notoriously laser-focused, which can be a blessing or a curse. Often failure comes from focusing on the wrong things, and failing to recognize the importance of other facts reality is throwing your face. I think the number one skill an entrepreneur who has failed develops is the ability to introspect—to objectively evaluate their actions and choices over time and assess patterns, mistakes, and crucial points with open eyes and an open mind. The self awareness that comes through developing this skill is priceless, and culturally I don’t think it is something that we necessarily foster as we develop people’s minds from child to adult. There are so many ways to fail, and many factors are even out of the hands of the entrepreneur, so I think the advice to “fail fast”, learn, and continue onward is evergreen.
Failure an Inevitable Part of Success
Contributed by: Cass Phillipps, Executive Producer of FailCon
Failure can not only fuel entrepreneurial success, it is an inevitable part of it. As an entrepreneur you are creating something that has never been developed, encountered, or possibly even considered in your society. With so little to go by, it is impossible that you will create the perfect solution right from scratch. Entrepreneurial success is in fact dozens, if not hundreds, of little failures. A successful entrepreneur is constantly releasing small changes, testing designs, and incorporating new ideas. They are testing how these go both quantitatively and qualitatively, and making changes accordingly. It is through failure that founders find the successful product they are going to develop.
Treat Everything as an Experiment
Contributed by: Sean Ellis, CEO of CatchFree
Failure in a startup is all about perspective. I view everything as an experiment to create value, so it’s very hard to actually fail. Even the company itself is an experiment to create value; if one company runs out of money I would just start another one. This is much easier in Silicon Valley, where people respect the entrepreneurial process. In other areas of the world, it can be harder to shed the perception of failure and jump back on the horse.