FAILURE. Say it with me – FAILURE! No louder…FAILURE!
OK, now that everyone around you thinks you are crazy from your impromptu scream therapy session. Everyone fears failure. But breakthroughs depend on it. The best entrepreneurs and the best companies embrace their mistakes and learn from them. In Rule #6 of Rules for Entrepreneurs we address success and failure. For every entrepreneur, especially successful ones, failure is something they have experienced often and sometimes very publicly but it is part of the territory.
There is much to be said for failure. It is much more interesting than success.
- Max Beerbohm
We live in a culture of perfection and most organizations push the undercurrent that failure in any capacity is unacceptable. Success is all that matters. This actually backfires because if people think that failure has dire consequences they will do the minimum and not rock the boat. The dialogue from Ron Livingston’s character, Peter Gibbons from “Office Space” to “The Bobs” (you have to see the movie to understand that one) comes to mind:
Peter Gibbons: The thing is, Bob, it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care.
Bob Porter: Don’t… don’t care?
Peter Gibbons: It’s a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my butt off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don’t see another dime, so where’s the motivation? And here’s something else, Bob: I have eight different bosses right now.
Bob Slydell: I beg your pardon?
Peter Gibbons: Eight bosses.
Bob Slydell: Eight?
Peter Gibbons: Eight, Bob. So that means that when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That’s my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.
Does this sound familiar to you?
It did for me at the last job I worked at 10 years ago before I made the entrepreneurial leap. I had three bosses but no TPS reports (again a Office Space reference) so I did the minimum and if I got in trouble I had to figure out how to deflect the blame.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
- Sir Winston Churchill
Courage to continue is one the finest character traits a leader can have when everyone is ready to give up. Have there been times when I wanted to quit and walk away from a project? Sure. But knowing that a project is dead and nothing can be done is different from knowing there is still a chance if you take a different approach and there is a path to succeeding. I think this is a defining characteristic between someone who is a leader and who is just a dreamer.
Allow people to make intelligent failures — according a great article in Business Week, intelligent failures are “those that happen early and inexpensively and that contribute new insights about your customers — should be more than just tolerable. They should be encouraged.”
“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
- Robert Francis Kennedy
That quote by RFK reminds me of the statement “Go Big or Go Home” which seems like the motto for a power drink commercial but it has such powerful implications to those who dream big and go for it all.
In fact many times when you are dreaming big, the more detractors you will have and the more people tell you “no,” the closer you are probably to ultimate success. In other words, the more people telling you “no” now, the more people will say “yes” in the long term. Most people say “no” or “you can’t do it” because they are afraid to try themselves and would rather see you fail than try themselves. I know that sounds arrogant, but it is true in many cases.
One caution… it is this is this very strength can become a weakness. Every talent contains an opposite that sometimes makes it into a handicap. Successful people like to win and achieve high standards. This can make them so terrified of failure it ruins their lives. When a positive trait, like achievement, becomes too strong in someone’s life, it’s on the way to becoming a major handicap.
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