Creating An Entrepreneurship Culture That Embraces Failure

“I have not failed. I‘ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” - Thomas A. Edison

These are the famous words from Thomas A. Edison who went on to create the modern day electric bulb. Thankfully he never quit then or any other time when he went on to create the motion picture camera, stock ticker and even inventions that may still prove to be an influence on today's society: batteries for electric cars.

What sets Edison and others apart from many entrepreneurs today?

Knowing that acceptance of failure is part of innovation and progression. That failure needs to be embraced as a key element of entrepreneurship and startups.

Failure, however, is still a dreaded word in our everyday vocabulary. Perhaps this stems from our education systems where failure is not getting more than 50%.

Failure is still the big red mark that creates an imperfection on an otherwise great paper.

It's not winning that game or being the best of the failures - second. This mindset is what carries on to our work when failing means not meeting our KPI’s and promotions are primarily based on meeting targets.

It’s therefore, understandable that it's practically impossible to create a culture of failure.

But does this make it right?

Undoubtedly no.

In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell presents the 10,000 hour rule.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Think of any professional sportsman, musician or artist. No doubt that Cristiano Ronaldo never placed that perfect place kick on his first time, or Tiger the approach shot down the middle his 50th.

However, many entrepreneurs expect their first (and usually only) venture to work the first time.

Why?

The stakes are too high.

Let me state that when I say, entrepreneurs, I don’t mean the “necessity entrepreneur”, those that have no option but to start an enterprise.

Rather, the “opportunity entrepreneur”. The highly skilled, highly employable professional that chooses not to have a job, but start his own business.

For those entrepreneurs, the risks associated with failing are too high when compared to the relative safety net of a corporate job.

Your family and friends are likely to question your choice, especially given your undoubted qualifications. The chance of losing money - your own, from the FFF’s (Friends, Family, Fools), or worse the Bank - will be a blight on your record and limit your ability to access credit in the future. Worse still, missing out on the luxuries of consumables and a steady paycheck.

But we must learn to not only accept, but to encourage failure. The greatest advancements in technology are brought forth from the inability to accept the status quo. Challenging them will result in failure, but no progress is made in a vacuum void of trial and error.

Returning to Edison, perhaps entrepreneurs need to adopt the process of “The scientific method” used by scientists and engineers. The method of constructing a hypothesis, testing through an experiment, analyzing the data and drawing a conclusion. Through this, failure is not only accepted but expected. It’s far better to obtain a failed result in an experiment and learn than to not learn at all.

Cover Image: A light bulb but no (good) ideas | John Liu

Craig Wing

About Craig Wing

Entrepreneur. Ex Head of Small Business at Google South Africa. 4 companies, 2 patents. World Economic Forum Shaper, Tutu Fellow, Ashoka Changemaker. M&G: Top 200 under 35, Destiny Mag: 40 under 40.

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