By Rieva Lesonsky
Do you fear failure? Of course you do. Why wouldn’t you? They don’t give out gold medals to the loser of a race, or Academy Awards to actors whose films tanked.
It’s no different with business ownership…or is it? Sure, the focus in starting a business is all about success. And business magazines don’t celebrate “failure stories.” But maybe they should. Why? Because, in many cases, there’s just as much to be learned from failure as from success—and maybe more.
Consider two of the biggest entrepreneurial success stories of our era: Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Gates’ first business, Traf-O-Data, failed and later, Gates famously dropped out of Harvard—both things that would probably have Gates’ parents biting their nails with worry about their son’s future. For Jobs, failure came later in life, when slow sales of Apple’s Lisa computer in the mid-1980s prompted the company’s board of directors to oust him from his role as head of the Macintosh division.
I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t describe either Gates or Jobs as “failures.” They’re inspirational successes not because they never failed, but because they learned from doing so. In fact, there are some startup experts who advise new entrepreneurs to “fail fast, early and often.”
How can you put failure to work for you?
- Don’t fear it. If babies never tried to walk, they’d never fall down. Is that the kind of approach you want to take to your business? I’m not advocating making stupid moves, but you should be taking calculated risks.
- Start small. One way to grow comfortable with failure is to begin with small risks. Don’t try to expand your company worldwide all at once—start by expanding, say, from two units to three, or from your city to your state.
- Let your employees fail, too. A staff that’s scared to fail will never be more than mediocre. Make sure they know you value creative ideas and innovation, even if it doesn’t always work out as they intend.
- Learn from it. If you keep making the same mistakes twice, failure isn’t teaching you anything. After any failure, sit back and assess what went wrong, why and how you can avoid it in the future. In this way, failure can fine-tune your operations for success.