There seems to be a habit forming amongst risky companies, especially in start-ups: many say that success doesn’t come first time around that you need to fail before you can succeed. While there is truth to this statement, it is starting to look like this ideal is being construed incorrectly; with businesses taking pride in their failures, as if to show off that they’re trying at something. Now, I can’t debate that there aren’t great lessons to be learnt from one’s mistakes, but failure simply can’t be seen as necessary, or even a good thing.
The difference lies in being able to distinguish between different types of failure. There are helpful failures, where you can cut your losses and move on, but even these are only useful because they only failed by a slim margin, and still contained some level of success. Then there are wasteful failures, where caution is thrown to the wind, and ideas are tossed into the wilderness with no actual foundations to provide success – and this is what needs to be addressed.
Although the famous examples of the Jobs and Zuckerbergs of the world, who have drawn success by learning from their failures or missteps drive the modern attitude towards business failures, this sets a dangerous precedent. For every Zuckerberg that has gained phenomenal success, there are tens of thousands who have made mistakes, and never took away the humility and willingness to adapt and learn. And it’s the seeming lack of awareness of this that is appearing to cloud over the very real danger that failure represents.
By no means am I suggesting that risk taking is a bad thing, but maybe the commonplace definition of a business risk is wrongly understood. Risk for risk’s sake will almost certainly lead to failure. Calculated risks, based of educated decisions and slight deviations from strategies, that’s where failure can be helpful. It can help you narrow your business model, work out if a particular market isn’t right for you, and teach you best practices for the future. If you’re going to fail, do it quickly, and do it cheaply. That way the price of failure is low, and the cost of learning something about your business won’t set you back significantly.
Fear of failure is a completely natural and healthy thing to have. If risks are necessary to drive forward, fail smart, have your options open and be prepared for bouncing back.