The word “failure” has many negative connotations. As an entrepreneur, you have to get used to the word and to the idea that sometimes an idea simply doesn’t work. But this does not mean that a goal is not worth chasing, only that there must be another way of achieving it.
It is important that entrepreneurs learn to see the benefits of failure and learn to identify the lessons that can be learnt from it.
Further, it is important that we learn to be resilient: it is easy to be disheartened by a defeat and to become convinced that the idea is not worth pursuing. But no experience should be disregarded, no matter how unsuccessful the outcome.
Failure, in one form or another, is inevitable for everyone, but particularly entrepreneurs. The first thing to do when facing disappointment is to take account of the facts – don’t ignore what’s happened or try to put a too-positive spin on it. Be honest about what’s gone wrong so that you can you accurately identify the lessons and take action.
For entrepreneurs, not knowing whether or not something would have worked can be worse than failure. Thomas Edison is claimed to have said of inventing the lightbulb,
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Whether or not Edison actually said this doesn’t really matter. The point is that someone did and they were right: when an attempt fails, we do not have the result we were looking for but we do have a result. We know how not to achieve something and that is in itself a lesson.
Failure has its benefits
For one, in crisis we find clarity.
When something is going wrong we are often at our most clear-headed and decisive. We are able to think critically and thereby better isolate problems and find solutions.
Furthermore, crisis tends to have the result of polarising employees. When things are going wrong, the strongest members of the team will be the ones helping in whatever way they can and coming up with innovative solutions. Those that are ambivalent, defeatist (not to be confused with realistic), or simply unwilling to help, may not be employees for long.
Defeat is an opportunity to be creative. Now you know what doesn’t work, you can approach it from a different angle. Most entrepreneurs are creative and resourceful thinkers who thrive on challenge and risk, and are always keen to learn.
Not only does failure tell us what not to do but it gives us an opportunity to start fresh, imagine new ways of tackling a problem, and acquire new knowledge.
Finding success in defeat
Although failure is not ideal it should not be seen as a black mark. Instead, consider defeat as an experience. Experience is what makes us capable in life, hireable on a CV, useful in a crisis. We need experience in order to succeed; thus we need failure in order to succeed.
Indeed, we could argue that an entrepreneur that has failed more has simply taken more risks. Indeed, Elon Musk said, “Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.”
We can see failed attempts as simply part of the process of iteration. In attempting to achieve a goal, we must assume that we will at some point fail. But failure is just part of the process. This is particularly true for serial entrepreneurs who, I would go so far as to say, would not be serial entrepreneurs were success always guaranteed.
Because failure can be so devastating, we often attribute that which is beyond our control to some individual flaw. The tendency is to take it personally.
Rather than being disheartened and discouraged, consider these questions:
• What were we trying to achieve?
• How much preparation was done? Was this enough?
• What was the approach?
• What were the problems with the approach?
• Of those problems, which are in my power to change, and will doing so change the outcome?
The answers to these questions will help you to construct your next, more successful approach.
Failure is only truly failure if we do not learn from the experience or if we choose to give up before extinguishing all other options.
As entrepreneurs, we cannot succeed without taking risks and some of those risks will inevitably be unsuccessful – this is an integral aspect of entrepreneurship and as necessary a part of it as success.