The one F-word that no entrepreneur wants to hear, say, or talk about is failure. We avoid it, hide it, refuse to speak about it. But some of the best ideas, from the most spectacular entrepreneurs, are born from failure. Google it…I dare you not to be inspired by reading the results of that search. Failure is the only quantitative measure of true entrepreneurship, it is the only proof that risks were taken. The most successful entrepreneurs, talk more about their failures than their success, it demonstrates the passion in their pursuit. The most inspiring and influential stories of success are those that first tell us of extravagant failures that would make most people quit. The point is, while failure is difficult to deal with. it is an integral part of the entrepreneurial journey.
In my introduction to F-words That Every Entrepreneur Should Master, I reference what I called my ‘Indiana Jones’ moment of starting my own business. The reference to Indiana Jones is from the scene in which he takes the leap from the lions head, despite uncertainty and the fact that every bit of information he has suggests he will fall to his death. While not nearly as dramatic, that was my feeling as I was walking away from a secure, successful, and high-paying job to venture out on my own, without the savings or steady paycheck to support my family. Fortunately, most risks we take in building a business are not fatal. But the fact remains, the greatest returns, come from taking the greatest risks, they just don’t always pay off directly or immediately.
Failing is inevitable, we all will fail at some point along our journey. Failure itself is not indicative of our character or our capabilities, but how we deal with those failures will shape our future. Instead of belittling ourselves for our failures, we must realize that failure is an opportunity for growth and improvement. Failures move us one step closer to success. Thomas Edison said of his attempts to create the light bulb, “I have not failed, I have successfully discovered 10,000 ways that won’t work”. Embrace your failure as much or more than your success, because failures often proceed the greatest breakthroughs. We should not only embrace failure, but make failure a disciplined part of our quest for success. Oftentimes, the return we seek is found by examining our failures for the insights that lead us to the greatest success.
If you have ever wasted time pondering why you failed at something, try examining it objectively using the acronym F.A.I.L..
- Gather just the Facts. Ignore the obvious and common excuses and take the time to objectively collect all the relevant facts and be honest with yourself. It is too easy to make excuses, point the finger, or shift the blame when we fail.
- Analyze the situation. Examine the who, what, when, where, and how aspects of the failure. Look for commonalities or contrasts with other efforts whether they were successes or failures, and summarize your findings.
- Gain the Insights . Examine the findings from your analysis, identify hindsight changes that could have made a difference. Prioritize those insights to determine why the effort failed, the root causes, and critical path elements for future efforts.
- Apply the Learnings. Is it worth another effort? Did you solve an unrelated problem? How can the failure, lead you to success?
In my own journey, the questions I ask when not getting the desired results, “What risks am I really taking?”. Winston Churchill said it best “Success is not final, and failure is not fatal“. No matter where we are on the journey, or how much success we have achieved, we have to continuously examine our willingness to fail in order push ourselves forward.