The Necessity of Failure in Business

failure in business

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Failure. The “F” word. A word that brings at least a subtle anxiety if not outright dread. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs however, have flipped the way they choose to look at the word. Not to change its meaning but to change the way they perceive it. Failure in business is now seen as a necessary step towards success.

It happens to the best of us

Thinking that you are going to start and run a business flawlessly without any mistakes is somewhat unrealistic. Though the confidence is certainly admirable, this is almost never the case. And not just the overly confident. Even the most knowledgeable and risk averse entrepreneurs fall at the very same hurdles. It is learning to embrace failure as a learning opportunity that stops it hitting you twice as hard when you’re not expecting it.

The confidence to overcome

This is something we touched on in The Art of Storytelling in Business and there’s a reason we are all so fascinated with the “underdog” story. There’s always the moment where the protagonist has a moment of epiphany and realises that there is a choice in how they view their set-backs. Lay down and die, or fight to prevail. We may think ‘ok that’s a bit dramatic’ but there’s a plethora of films based on real world business events like this. The point here is the same; how entrepreneurs choose to interpret failure and being stronger for it in the long run.

Failing for the right reasons

Sometimes we hear about those multi-millionaires who struggled to have their BIG IDEA realised by those who just didn’t ‘get it’ but with a lot of perseverance, had it brought to the masses who latched on to it like it was the thing missing from their life. But in reality, this is the rare exception. We hear about these most because they are the most interesting. Exceptions are romantic, however there is a danger that entrepreneurs may actually see these instances as commonplace, “you hear it all the time!”.

One thing that does happen all the time (on Dragons Den at least…) is having a great idea but it is let down by poor financial management, legal and patent challenges as well as those niggling operational problems. In these cases, failure is essential as it points out where the strengths and weaknesses of the business are in order to go back, re-tool and create the well oiled machine the entrepreneur knew it could be.

Some inspirational quotes on failure

  • “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work”. Thomas Edison
  • “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” Michael Jordan
  • “An essential part of creativity is not being afraid to fail.” Edwin Land
  • “You always pass failure on the way to success.” Mickey Rooney
  • “You can’t let your failures define you. You have to let your failures teach you.” Barack Obama

The poet John Cooper Clarke once commented that it took thirty years for him to be considered an overnight success, and as much is true with almost every successful business or person that you can think of.

The difference in what is seen as a successful person and an unsuccessful person often comes down to how they adapt and move on from the perceived failure. If you accept that you’ve failed, dust yourself off, see what you can learn, then go again then you will be likely to eventually get to where you want to be. People remember the success and will quickly forget where it went wrong along the way.

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