Failure; funny how people are afraid of it.
They will work and work to come up with the perfect idea, the perfect plan, the perfect design. And they will still fail.
A lack of failure is an indicator of a lack of effort. A lack of failure is an indicator of a lack of innovation. A lack of failure indicates a lack of commitment.
If you don’t want to fail, then don’t do anything. But if you don’t do anything, you fail.
As kids, we are not afraid of failure. As kids we pretend, our imaginations go wild with ideas, and nothing can stop us. Then something strange happens to us as we grow up. As Rodger Hodgson’s "Logical Song" illustrates, we get sent away to be sensible, logical, cynical. We learn not to make mistakes, not to fail, not because it is the best way to learn, but because people could laugh at us.
As the Marshmallow Challenge videos teach us, Kindergarteners will build better towers out of spaghetti than business school graduates. Why? Because they are willing to fail, to experiment, to try something that may not work. And if anyone laughs, it is most likely to be the kid who failed. They had fun.
In business, entrepreneurs fail more than they succeed. Some fail epically. The smart ones know that in failure they learn. The really smart ones know that even if they succeed, they must still fail in many small ways, and they learn from every failure.
Artists, designers, musicians, entrepreneurs—they all failed to learn all the parts of the Logical Song, so they are not afraid to fail. In many cases they like failure, and like children who fail before they are cowed by peer pressure and the expectations of their parents, they learn to laugh at their failures.
Get past the entrepreneur, to the managers, to the employees. These people live in fear of failure. They fail, and when they fail, they are punished. They may get formal punishment, but more often they simply have to endure the ridicule of their peers and the boss. Our culture trains them that failure is punished, and that failure is painful.
First-generation business owners are risk takers. They take risks, knowing that they may fail. When they hand the business over to the next generation, the business is a going concern. The second generation may not remember the risks that Dad took; they may not even have been alive, or they were too young to know. They get handed the business—and the pressure not to screw up.
Guess what? They screw up most of the time. The mistake they make is not to be innovative, not to take risks, not to change the business with the times. Where the first generation is willing to take calculated risks, the second generation shies away from such risks.
When the market changes and the customers change, a new competitor with a new service and product comes along…they fail. It is not a sudden failure, but more a long, slow, withering of the business. The failure is then blamed on the market, the competition, and the customers.
In reality, the leader is cause of the failure. Because they were not willing to risk the failures that really mattered. The failures of innovation.
We fail. Sometimes it is a mistake. Sometimes the failure is caused by an attempt to do something we have not done, something most others would not dream of attempting. If it breaks, we study, ask “why,” and learn. We fix it and try again. We do that because we coach our clients to take risks.
And we always have a “Plan B”.