The myth of failure - Business Works
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The myth of failure

Adi Gaskell, PEX Pretty much forever, the act of failure has been something to feel bad about. Yet in recent years all of that has changed. Failure has become almost like a rites of passage. "If you haven't failed then you haven't experimented enough," goes the party line.

Of course, the allure of failure, other than letting us off the hook for screwing up, is that it gives us a chance to learn from our mistakes. Does this really happen? I'm a pretty awful cook for instance, so failure in the kitchen is a regular occurrence. My rate of progress, however, is pretty poor, despite all of this failing. That can't be right can it?

What failure advocates fail to tell you, of course, is that you need teaching by people who haven't failed. Failure in itself generally only teaches you what not to do (don't put milk in Redbush tea for instance), but it very rarely teaches you what you should be doing to be a success.

Contrast that with when you do something well and it succeeds. You have a tremendous amount of knowledge from that because you have stored in your memory banks exactly what worked well to produce your success. You have a baseline there to work from and achieve that continuous improvement we all want.

So I urge you not to get hung up on what you do badly. Failure isn't automatically a good thing, a badge of honour for your creative urges. It's merely evidence of your not having planned sufficiently to succeed.

I always like to include some research in my posts so it's not merely me shooting from the hip, so I'd like to present some Harvard research into start-up success rate. Remember the zeitgeist that failure is good? Sorry, not true. The researchers found that people who already had a successful startup were much more likely to create another successful startup. People with a failed startup under their belts were no more likely to create a subsequent success than people who had not even tried before.

Adi Gaskell is Head of Online at Process Excellence Network.

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