Failure is often-hyped and talked about as a competitive advantage for entrepreneurial circles.
Sometimes, to the chagrin of many people who have failed themselves, the idea of failure can be championed above the actual outcome or benefit that accompanies the actual failure. In fact, there have been horror stories of entrepreneurs who ignored or idolized failure with a stubbornness that ended up harming themselves, their company, and the people who trusted them.
Still, we believe failure is a wise and irreplaceable teacher for entrepreneurs as they build their businesses. Why?
On a recent episode of Chasing Velocity, Sara Gabriel (Founder & CEO of Sara Gabriel Jewelry) delved into this topic and shed some light on why failure has been so instrumental to her business.
Her advice boiled down to three core lessons:
- Planning exclusively on prior success leads to irrelevance
- Failure drives improvement and innovation
- Communal failure (with employees, partners, or investors) can solidify relationships and align incentives
Let’s break these down a bit further.
1. Planning Exclusively on Prior Success Leads to Irrelevance
How many times have we seen corporate giants with histories of success fall into rapid and deep irrelevance as result of relying on past victories?
The stories of Blockbuster, Sears, Yellow Pages, and other giants come immediately to mind. When an entrepreneur is so focused on what has worked in the past; it can be easy to lose sight of what lies ahead.
Failure disrupts this thinking and allows the entrepreneur to see new opportunities as a result. What the entrepreneur has tried hasn’t or isn’t working, so she is forced to explore new opportunities.
Which brings us to our next lesson.
2. Failure Drives Improvement and Innovation
When businesses are faced with two primary options when they reach a stumbling block or sticking point.
Adapt and innovate or die.
The mere threat of failure to a business forces the entrepreneur to look at how the business is currently operating, and find a new solution to make things work.
Sara mentioned this during our interview, and said that the threat of failure is what forced her to begin releasing control of aspects of the business to more qualified employees who could accomplish tasks with focus. This freed Sara up to work on the business itself while growing a strong foundation for the future.
3. Communal Failure Can Solidify Relationships and Align Incentives
The famed authors Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith were quoted as saying “Overcoming barriers to performance is how groups become teams.”
There is something that happens when a group of people experience loss or failure together. Throughout history we’ve seen groups of people rally together and rise from the ashes from a great failure or trial to overcome the odds and perform for the betterment of their fellow person.
In sports, it is widely understood that great or championship teams cannot reach the pinnacle of their ability before first experiencing the pain of loss together as a group.
The same is true for your company.
Failure is an opportunity for the individuals in your business to rally together and serve one another in pursuit of a greater goal. It is also an opportunity for you as the leader to align incentives and place your team members in the best positions for them to succeed.
The disappointment and emotion that accompanies failure can serve as a congealing agent for your team.
Failure in and of itself is not a miracle worker or rite of passage that entrepreneurs should actively seek out. The idea of failure is one that every high-achieving leader should actively seek to avoid.
However, the lessons learned from failure are invaluable building blocks for any entrepreneur as they build their business.