An Opportunity For Growth: Defining Failure In The Context Of Entrepreneurship
(originally published at Entrepreneurship Magazine)
During my career, I have had the opportunity to work closely with entrepreneurs, investors and various companies in developing innovative new ideas. Through these collaborations I have witnessed (and sometimes been a part of), the resounding fear of failure, with business as usual set towards finding any way to reduce and mitigate risk, and in some cases almost eliminating it all together. This approach not only directly affects growth prospects and freedom around concept development (lower risk equals lower reward), but it also affects how entrepreneurs and executives address new projects and the value that these projects can ultimately generate for entrepreneurs, enterprises, and society as whole.
We exist in a society that worships success. From athletes to politicians, to executives and workers in general, everyone wants to be successful. We therefore become accustomed to understand success as a viable way to progress, to evolve, to grow and eventually get a better "status". Success is held up as the Holy Grail that will help us to be better and continue to evolve. Yet, this same obsession with success also leads us deny ourselves failure; hide, and avoid it at all costs. We reduce the risks and replace outright risk for "calculated risk". Calculated risk is in essence when the risk factor has been reduced to minimum replacing uncertainty with an "expected result". Where is the creativity when we follow this approach? How can we truly innovate when the risk is zero? Does sustained decreased risk ultimately affect our ability to grow and develop? By reducing the risk of failure, and ultimately avoiding it all together, are we restricting our ability to truly create?
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Let's view risk and the possibility of failure as they really are. In the MENA region especially, failure is not understood as a way to learn, evolve and eventually grow, but as a despicable event worthy of pity and shame. In particular, the digital ecosystem is a world of entrepreneurial failures. A recent global survey showed that 80% of new startups disappear before the first 18 months, and of the remaining 20%, 95% cease to exist after three years. As an entrepreneur, investor and mentor, I have been a part of these statistics. These stats should not scare entrepreneurs, but teach them that one of the key characteristics that they must have is being able to learn from failures, and persevere. There is a Japanese proverb that I think perfectly captures this message: "Nanakorobi Yaoki", and it translates to "I'll fall seven times and rise again on eight." That's the resilience that a good entrepreneur needs to have.
The entrepreneur must persevere despite difficulties along the path to his goal, because he is the motivator and the vital energy of the venture. An entrepreneur knows that the big payoff will only come if they are able to cope with difficulties, challenges and the risk therein. Facing the fear of failure and turning that fear into something positive will build greater awareness and acceptance of risk. An entrepreneur should also know that great rewards are associated with a risk which cannot always be minimized. Finally, if good entrepreneurs fail, they learn from their failure and use it to drive them to success. From the standpoint of experience, both investors and executives and even teammates, prefer entrepreneurs to have experienced failure. The uncomfortable situation of failure tests not only the character of the entrepreneur, but also his or her ability to reinvent and relaunch.
Tens of thousands of successful entrepreneurs have failed, and will continue to fail around the world. One well known example is Steve Jobs- he reinvented Pixar and then returned to Apple to turn it into the company's largest market capitalization of NASDAQ. A true entrepreneur, Jobs was fuelled by adversity and decided to launch his own business and struggle against bureaucracy and cash flow, attract talent and win customers. This gave us a clear example on how for some of the best entrepreneurs, failure is the only way to grow.
So, peruse your dream knowing that failure is an option! After which you will only become better- especially when you've taken the lessons you've learned into consideration.