It is often said that entrepreneurs have nothing to fear but fear of failure, to borrow a turn of phrase from Sir Richard Branson, entrepreneur and daring risk-taker extraordinaire. He recently wrote an article for Open Forum that I found to be very interesting, and worthy of reflection.
Branson makes a very interesting point about fear of failure, but how can innovation actually fail? It is quite simple, the only way is to DO NOTHING. Innovation is all about getting things done (or trying in the case of Virgin) and learning from the result whether it is success or failure. This way you can either try again or use your acquired knowledge in some other way. The route forward may not necessarily be a straight line, but you will move forward and potentially gain competitive advantage.
In the article, Branson openly admits that he learns much more from business failures – from Virgin’s business units as well as other companies. The company’s highly decentralized structure encourages employees to behave like business owners. “When things do go wrong, the team members feel such ownership of the enterprise that they usually roll up their sleeves and turn it around,” he explains.
Thomas Edison is reported to have made over 2,000 attempts at creating the first light bulb. His view of this was that he found 2,000 ways NOT to make a light bulb. Imagine that there was no patent and a competitor had no knowledge of what Edison had done. Even if Edison was on attempt number 1,999 he was still 1,999 steps ahead of his competitor, none of which he would have made without failing!
In the words of Sir Richard Branson:
“If you can identify and learn from your mistakes, you have a much greater chance of bouncing back from them – and succeeding the next time.”
But first of course you must actually DO something or otherwise you are guaranteed to fail.
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