Thoughts on failure

It’s amazing how much failure has become a topic of discussion in start up and design communities. Some people preach “fail early and fail often”. And other people wouldn’t even admit to failure being in their vocabulary.

What’s going on here?

The real issue is fear. You can’t be scared to start stuff. If it all goes tits up, then it isn’t the end of the world. But neither does that mean that the entrepreneur should resign themselves to failure - they have to fight tooth and nail to influence everything they possibly can to give themselves the greatest chance of success.

If something doesn’t turn out, don’t just focus on what went wrong - look at what went right, and do more of that next time.

When looking at failure, we should think of it as a long term investment. The stock market might go up, and it might go down, but long term it can show considerable gain. The same is true of start ups. Take Paypal as an example. They started out offering payments via mobile phone (short term failure), which evolved in to the Paypal we know today (long term success). Something is only a true failure when it comes to an abrupt end. If the Paypal founders had quit altogether after their initial struggles, and never started another company, then that would’ve been failure.

As it happens, most people have set backs at one time or another - it’s called life. And the beauty of entrepreneurship is it produces all kinds of unexpected by-products. A company could be inadvertently sowing the seeds of future success, even when the company in its current incarnation is about to crash and burn. An example is Acorn computer, whose work on 32 bit RISC architecture led to a spin out company called ARM, which has met with tremendous success in the portable electronics market (approx. 98% of mobile phones use this processor architecture).

But long term success requires lots of determination. Determination and hard work is what drives entrepreneurship. You don’t have to be super smart to be an entrepreneur, but you do have to be determined. The current preoccupation with failure has missed the point. It’s not good to fail, but it is wrong not to try.