But there is Joy in Trying
In Silicon Valley, failure is “accepted, even encouraged.”
Not according to my sample size of Uber drivers.
I’m in San Francisco today, where Uber drivers are the new bartenders, and represent potential bellweather for what’s really going on in the Bay Area. From a sample size of 4 Uber drivers, representing an average of 200 rides each, I learned that the primary themes discussed with their rides were bankruptcy, lack of funding, or fear of running out of cash. If you can’t tell the truth to your investor or fellow co-working-space co-workers, then maybe the dark confessional of the Toyota Camry is your only outlet.
Let’s face it, we really don’t want to fail, but we do want to learn.
Perhaps we just need a few more words to describe failure, so that we know what we’re talking about.
The Failure Learning Curve:
Failure of Not Trying
Let’s start with a true form of failure: the failure to not even try. All would agree that there is cowardice in not showing up.
Did you make an oops? A clumsy blunder? Did you swing, and miss? Well then fear not – we all do, and in fact this is the kind of mistake we should celebrate. See Ben Zander coaching a young cellist to say “how fascinating!” with each flub rather than wince and shut down emotionally.
Starting at the 11 minute mark in this video:
Did you try something, expecting a specific outcome, but you found out you were wrong? Well that’s reason to celebrate. You have invalidated your assumptions. The next time you present your results to your team, make sure to include all of the assumptions you have dutifully disqualified – proof that you are saving time and focusing your energy on more promising paths. Answer the most important question – what insights do you have now that you didn’t before, and what did you learn?
“An inventor fails 999 times, and if he succeeds once, he’s in. He treats his failures simply as practice shots.” ~Charles F. Kettering
Did you uncover a big opportunity, an opening to go big or go home? But then did you swing big and strike out? This is the kind of failure embraced by many in Silicon Valley. Investors are taking big risks, and are willing to let nine out of ten porfolio companies fail in order to see one company get exponentially substantial returns.
When you play on this particular game board, you will be asked to speed up your product timelines, spend more on marketing and sales, and go for the ultimate prize: being the winner that takes all in the category you are creating. If you strike out under these conditions, well they were worth the effort.
The Epic Failure
Did you build a giant business plan, model out five year financials, and burn through millions or even billions of dollars without vetting the risks? Did you march your team forward refusing to listen to your customer or to market signals? Did it take you many months to get your first version to market, only to attract few customers at launch? Well then, that is failure. It’s epic failure. Feel the shame.
If you are recovering from a major failure and get back on that learning curve as you try again. You will have to shift from the false comforts of planning through Powerpoint, and learn how to cultivate new business models. Allow yourself a few more moments of “oops” this time, focus your efforts and disqualify bad ideas, and hunt down the bigger opportunities. And you’ll have much more fun.