Years before Microsoft launched, Bill Gates and Paul Allen built Traf-O-Data, which quickly went out of business. Steve Jobs was forced out of Apple but made an epic comeback, growing the company into the iconic success that it is today.
When I started my first business, failure was such a taboo subject.
More recently society’s attitude toward failure has shifted somewhat. Founders of companies that go under are expected to rise from the ashes, reborn and ready for their second chance.
Those with grit might fail multiple times before they can boast about any real accomplishments. To become successful, entrepreneurs need to make mistakes, learn from their blunders and wholly embrace failure.
Related: How I Overcome the Fear of Failure
Whether you’re a first-time entrepreneur or a seasoned business owner, the fear of doing the wrong thing can be paralyzing. You might think that seemingly innocent decisions have killed startups, so taking a large risk is not worth it.
Yet by playing it safe, you and your company might never grow. Sometimes, the occasional gaffe can have overwhelmingly positive outcomes. Other times, deliberate mistakes can lead to game-changing discoveries.
In Harvard Business Review, Paul J. H. Schoemaker and Robert E. Gunther shared criteria to weigh before making intentional mistakes, such as assessing "the potential gain greatly outweighs the cost of the mistake" and seeing if “decisions are made repeatedly.”
They also said to note when “the environment has dramatically changed” or “the problem is complex and solutions are numerous."
Plus Schoemaker and Gunther said keep in mind if "your organization’s experience with a problem is limited.”
Errors, accidental or otherwise, are not necessarily a cause for alarm. First, look for the silver lining. You may thank yourself later instead of finding fault.
Related: Make Rejection Work for You
Learning from blunders.
Corporate crisis-management teams have strict procedures about what to do when employee oversight causes unexpected consequences. Forget about them for a second. Before you panic, realize that despite what’s happened, this is not the end of the world.
Each mistake made is an opportunity to learn something new about existing systems and processes, your team and its interpersonal dynamics and yourself. Your career requires self-reflection. When you look back at when went wrong, you will be able to identify critical areas for improvement.
You will hopefully avoid making the same mistake twice and may even be able to apply that lesson to other parts of your business and personal life. You will develop thick skin and soon enough failure won’t faze you.
My biggest mistake was manufacturing products in China for my company Amerisleep. I initially assumed it would be cheaper to make them there than in the United States. But that was not the case.
When I factored in shipping costs, import taxes and regulatory fees, the profit margins were slashed. And sometimes (although rarely) vendors might send over 1,000 units of defective product.
Knowing my company’s brand and customer experience were at stake, I decided to bring back production to America. Doing so has been one of the best course corrections I have ever made.
Dwelling on past mistakes is unhealthy. While some entrepreneurs prefer to sweep worries under the rug, the most accomplished individuals fully acknowledge their faults and maintain an optimistic outlook when mishaps happen.
“Failing doesn’t mean that you’re not cut out to run your own business,” said Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group.
In due time, you will learn to appreciate failure and bounce back from your mistakes. Doing so helps you grow as a person and as an entrepreneur.
With each mistake I have made in my career and in growing my business, I have made it a personal challenge to understand how I could have done better. Applying Band-Aid fixes only masks the issue. After a bit of reflection, I commit to solving the root cause of the problem.
This approach has had positive, lasting effects since my ultimate goal is to build a more sustainable company.
If failure is no longer depressing but empowering, what will you be able to accomplish?
Related: Famous Failures Who Will Inspire You