But failure isn't scary, and it shouldn't be feared. Failure should be welcomed. I've known this for a long time now--I've experienced many failures in my business, and I've learned from every single one of them. I've also been lucky enough to have had mentors who showed me the value of failure from the beginning.
Recently, I spoke to David Neagle--a long-time personal growth coach and author of the book, The Millions Within--about entrepreneurialism and failure. He has spoken at length about the value of failure in society and why our fear of failure is becoming more and more problematic. And while he tends to focus on the personal side of things, there are so many parallels between his work in personal growth and what I've seen in business that it's hard to ignore.
Here are some of those parallels and what they ultimately mean for you, as an entrepreneur.
Why is failure a problem?
It isn't! Failure itself is not a problem. According to Neagle, the only problem with failure is the shame that our society has wrapped around it--and I'd have to agree.
We've all experienced shame from failure. We experienced it at a young age in school and from our parents. But many of us have also been on the opposite side, tearing down those above us for making even the smallest of mistakes. Unfortunately, our society is great at building people up in their success, but the second they make a mistake, we demonize them and shame them.
As a result, people have become obsessed with avoiding failure. Parents seem to be especially fearful of their children failing, which is apparent from the recent college admissions scandal and the emergence of "snow-plow" parents. But in reality, failure is one of the best things that can happen to anyone--especially children! (And entrepreneurs!)
Failure builds confidence, provides invaluable learning opportunities, creates new and unique experiences, and helps make people more self-sufficient. All of which is incredibly valuable for children, entrepreneurs, and everyone in between.
Failure is the quickest path to success
Failure shouldn't be avoided; it should be welcomed. In fact, Neagle argues that failure is the quickest path to success. It may seem counterintuitive, but I can attest to this. If it weren't for the failures I've had in my business--and the lessons I learned from them--we'd still be stagnating, on the verge of bankruptcy.
As a business owner, failure allows you to find out where your weak spots are, where you're ignorant, and what skills you or your team needs to learn. It shows you what you need to do to scale your business--and the faster business owners can learn that, the faster they'll succeed.
Alternatively, avoiding failure can cause a business to stagnate and fizzle out. It means you're never taking risks, and therefore, you're missing opportunities. But there is another, more critical phenomenon: The more you avoid failure, the more likely it is that failure will happen in a way that will completely devastate your business. Learning how to bounce back from failures at an early age (in life or business) helps prepare you for anything down the road.
Getting to know failure
As we now know, the key to success with your business is to embrace failure--however counterintuitive it may seem. But how does one accomplish that?
The first step is to acknowledge that YOU are not the failure. Instead of looking at a mistake and saying, "I'm a failure," you need to be saying "what I did failed," or "what I did didn't work." It has nothing to do with you or who you are as a person, and by extension, business failures have nothing to do with the business itself. Even if a company goes bankrupt, the company itself is not a failure--what the people at the company chose to do simply didn't work. And that's okay.
In your company, it's important to allow your leaders to encourage responsible failure. Do this by focusing on radical accountability and honestly. Encouraging failure with the people that work for us brings about creativity. It encourages people to try new things and adapt to adversity that's happening within the workplace. And ultimately, that is where big breakthroughs happen in business.
Companies who aren't ready to embrace failure become fear-based. And in fear-based organizations, people only stick to what worked yesterday (or last month, or last year). In business, doing things "the way you've always done them" is a death sentence. It removes any room for growth or improvement.
Instead, we need to embrace failure to find out what's going to work next. Not what used to work.