“Fail fast” is an overly used and loaded adage. Entrepreneurs don’t wake up and ask themselves “How can I fail today?” What’s important is not to embrace failure, but to figure out how to manage it.
As an educator at Launch Academy, one of the hardest things I deal with are students grappling with failure. Our program attracts and admits overachievers, who, like entrepreneurs, are very hard on themselves. What’s unexpected about our program and in entrepreneurial endeavors, is that failure is expected. How we face it is what defines us. Below, I share the recipe for failure we convey to our students.
Try. Theodore Roosevelt, one of the toughest and most interesting executives of our history, tells us that, “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed."
Akhil Nigam, Founder of MassChallenge said during a panel during National Small Business Week that “As an early stage founder, you must will your business into existence.” If you do not act for fear of failure, how will you create anything of meaning?
Own your failure. While willing your creation or your new skills into existence, you will stumble across the way, and those that follow you will struggle as well. Take ownership of your part in failure. If you make excuses for yourself or blame others, no good can come of an already concerning situation.
Forgive yourself. For many of us, this is the hardest part. For me, personally, it helps to acknowledge that failure is a part of the human experience, and that I can grow from it. It also helps to have others to relate to. Dani Dewitt, an alumna of the Launch Academy program, shares “I think being around a group of people that were also fighting through the same kinds of things at night helped me realize I just needed to keep looking at things from different angles until I could solve the problem.”
Apologize authentically. As part of owning your failure, be authentic to those you may have wronged. There is nothing more infuriating for your customers than the corporate “we apologize for any inconvenience.” As an example, if your email service went down, it would be better to hear, “We know email is critical to your business, and we feel terrible for the disruption. We’ll update you as soon as we resolve the issue to get you back up and running.” Always acknowledge the problem and stress you understand the importance of solving it.
Perform a transparent retrospective. In corporate sillyspeak, one might call this a post mortem. This term needs to go away. Unless you’re in the healthcare business, it’s unlikely anyone died as a result of your failure. In software development, we use the term retrospective when we refer to a meeting where we look back at what went well and what went wrong in the management of failure. Involve stakeholders in this process, and be transparent in sharing what you’ve learned with your employees and your customers.
Teach others. We have a saying at Launch Academy, “to teach is to learn.” Take the insight you’ve gleaned from your retrospective and share your tribulations. It will benefit others in that they can learn from your experience, and it will provide you with closure.
As entrepreneurs, our businesses move too quickly to dwell on failure. Use this framework as a means to learn and move on, having benefited from the experience. Let’s not be confused anymore; failing isn’t fatal.
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