To succeed, fail - Business Works
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To succeed, fail

no Fear of Failure
F ailure is a frightening word, used in dark moments. Thought leaders around the world become coy, calling failure “The F-Word”i. In Europe, entrepreneurs in financial distress try to conceal their problems until it is too lateii. Nearly half of Europeans agreed that "one should not start a business if there is a risk it might fail" and did not differentiate between honest or fraudulent business failuresiii. At the same time we are advised that there is no innovation without failure, we should "Fail Fast, Fail Cheap"iv.

Like most aspects of our psyche, our deep-rooted fear of failure is something that has given us an evolutionary advantage. Marketing expert Seth Godin claims that fear is the dominant emotion of our lives because our brains evolved to see failure as a matter of life-or-death. He calls this the ‘lizard brain’ where the fear is hard-wired in the amygdalav. New research suggests our brains – on a neurological level – respond to success and ignore failurevi. New pathways are laid down which reinforce success behaviours, but failures don’t ‘imprint’ on the brain without other feedback (such as pain, which stimulates fear).

Our lesson is to work on our neuroplasiticity (the ability of the brain to accommodate change as a result of experience) by highlighting and discussing our failures. We need to be reflective and flexible; mental rigidity increases the risk of ‘failing badly’vii. For entrepreneurs the potential of failing fast relies on the directional nature of failure. Each time we fail we cannot progress without reflection. In our pursuit of improvement and innovation we must understand how to fail better. When entrepreneurs fail fast, we can take time to figure out how to succeed.

Roxanne Persaud is a Director of the Glory of Failure Ltd:


i. Harvard Business Review, April 2011 Vol. 89:4
The Failure Files: Perspectives on Failure, (2011) Ed. David Hillson.

ii. Insolvencies in Europe 2006/7, Creditreform

iii. Flash Eurobarometer #192 “Entrepreneurship”

iv. Doug Hall in Bloomberg Business Week, June/July 2007

v. Seth’s Blog Quieting the Lizard Brain, January 2010

vi. Success Gets into Your Head – and Changes It, (Jan 2010). Scott Berinato
Harvard Business Review, January 2011. Vol. 88:1

vii. Beyond Fear: thinking sensibly about security in an uncertain world, (2003) Bruce Schneier

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