Respecting Failure

By: Paul A. Jones

If you don’t think that respect for failure is one of the things that distinguishes places like Silicon Valley from places like Wisconsin , check out http://failcon2010.com/ – a Silicon Valley conference dedicated to dealing with, recovering from and learning from entrepreneurial failures. This year’s event, held on October 25, attracted over 450 folks, and by all accounts was a great success, if that word makes any sense in describing an event about failing. Don’t look for next year’s event at a Wisconsin location near you. Failure here, as an entrepreneur/friend of mine told me recently, isn’t something you learn from and build on, its more likely something that dogs your career and reputation – business and social.

I am not suggesting that failing is something to celebrate, as such, or that entrepreneurial failure is somehow pleasant for those who experience it. But let’s face it, any entrepreneur who has ever experienced great success – say, for example, Steve Jobs – has also experienced failure: gut-wrenching, “what was I thinking,” soul-searching failure. I know I have (just ask me about the business plan I buried in my front yard some years back). And as for Mr. Jobs, do you remember Next? Or Newton ? Or Lisa? And the jury’s still out – it’s been how many years now? – on Apple TV.

Indeed, one of the things that distinguishes most successful entrepreneurs from most, well, failed entrepreneurs, is how they handle failure. The ones who overcome failure tend to be those who don’t shy from confronting their failures. The one who takes the time to ask themselves what they might have done differently (or not – some failures are after all beyond the entrepreneur’s control). The best entrepreneurs I have met have also been the kind who are quite willing to share their encounters with failure with others.

Successful entrepreneurs have huge egos; so huge that they are not squeamish about their mistakes and failures, and, in fact, anxious to learn from them. And maybe, at a suitable emotional distance, even find some gallows humor in them. For me, the darkest moment in one of my failures was the sudden realization that, contrary to popular belief, it is actually always darkest just before it turns pitch black.  It wasn’t very funny at the time….

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