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Failure is not a tick in the box.

I cannot count the number of events I have been to where successful entrepreneurs and business leaders have took the stage to share their experiences on starting and running a business. Don’t get me wrong, I am a massive advocate for sharing stories, both good and bad, for the purposes of helping out others’ to learn and progress quicker with less avoidable mistakes. But the thing is… After nearly five years of hearing entrepreneurs share their lessons, I was recently presented with a situation that made me think hard. This situation made me strongly question some of the common concepts being portrayed to our budding young entrepreneurs…

Too many concepts are being thrown around without context and when information lacks context it is impossible to really understand the full story. Just look below, if you don’t know the context of this photo - what would you think?

It was the third talk into a full day conference. I was sitting in a bustling conference hall next to a young guy about to launch his own startup. He was diligently jotting down takeaways in his note pad. He was that “information sponge” that I was just a couple of years prior and arguably still am. He was listening attentively then stopped, and wrote this… “TO SUCEED, MUST FAIL”

Seeing those words scribbled down in a check list fashion evoked a strange felling inside of me. It sent me back to just recently when I had discussed the concept of “embracing failure” in both lecture to a Masters Entrepreneurship Class, as well as an interview for a startup magazine. WHAT HAD I DONE?

Hands down, failure is one of the most important lessons in human behaviour, be it for teaching our human predecessors to stop putting their hands in a burning flame, or teaching a toddler that a square peg does not fit in a round hole for the purposes of working out that fire burns and round pegs go in round holes. However, from my experience, too many people in positions of influence are using the word “failure” far too frivolously. Worst of all, they are tossing around the notion of failure without any context.

I wanted to write on this topic in an attempt to get speakers, writers and influencers in general, to seriously consider the ramifications of their words on the next generation of entrepreneurs. We need to add context instead of just tossing around over-riding concepts. Failure is the best teacher, but it’s a pitstop not a destination. Each time we as entrepreneurs try to make something work, there is a chance we will fail. From that failure, or arguably the quick response to that failure, we are then empower to iterate and to make it better. Let’s stop preaching the power of failure and instead start telling more highly contextual stories about our failures, how they happened, what we learnt from them, above all how we reacted to them in order to improve. Because after all, failure should not be on a check list.



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