How Enthusiastic Are You About Failing?
I can’t think of anyone who looks forward to failing. Some people are absolutely terrified of it, while others are more resilient and tend to bounce back relatively quickly.
Approaches to dealing with failure vary hugely among different cultures, societies and educational systems. Not surprisingly, parents also take widely differing approaches to teaching their children about failure.
This quote from a super successful American entrepreneur illustrates one parenting strategy, which I think most readers will find radically different from their own experience:
“When I was growing up, my dad would encourage my brother and I to fail. We would be sitting at the dinner table and he would ask, ‘So what did you guys fail at this week?’ If we didn’t have something to contribute, he would be disappointed. When I did fail at something, he’d high-five me. What I didn’t realize at the time was that he was completely reframing my definition of failure at a young age. To me, failure means not trying; failure isn’t the outcome. If I have to look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘I didn’t try that because I was scared ,’ that is failure.”
– Sara Blakely, Spanx founder, who was named in 2012 as the youngest self-made female billionaire in the world, as well as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people
The idea that failure has payoffs, especially for entrepreneurs, has been around for a long time. The traditional view has been that the main dividends from a start-up going belly up are the acquired wisdom and experience, which can help sharpen the thinking of the entrepreneur.
According to new research, as reported in Fortune, there may be other less widely recognized payoffs.
An influential research paper by Gustavo Manso, Professor of Finance at the University of California at Berkeley, demonstrates that if previously self-employed folks later seek employment in the corporate world, they are likely to command higher pay packages.
Sources in the field of executive search told Fortune that big companies are increasingly looking to recruit people with entrepreneurial backgrounds, who tend to think differently and have a broader array of skill-sets.
Start-ups tend to offer their founders a diversified business education at warp speed, often helping them determine personal career likes and dislikes at a much faster rate than would be possible by job-hopping in bigger companies.
According to Manso’s research, people who tried entrepreneurship and gave it up after less than two years were not penalized in terms of pay when they moved to another employer. Those who lasted more than 2 years as entrepreneurs ended up earning an average of 10 to 20% more than their peers.
Another piece of research, by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, found that – whether successful or otherwise – entrepreneurs tended to have higher levels of work-life satisfaction than salaried folks. My own observation about failure is that it is also an excellent breeding ground for humility. Some people start out humble. Many more need to learn it the hard way.
In the leadership context, if humility is at one end of the spectrum, then the opposite end is hubris.
As Jim Collins wrote in his short but powerful book “How the Mighty Fall” :
‘Dating back to ancient Greece, the concept of hubris is defined as excessive pride that brings down a hero, or alternatively …outrageous arrogance that inflicts suffering on the innocent…
‘We will see hubris in undisciplined leaps into areas where a company cannot become the best. We will see hubris in a company’s pursuit of growth beyond what it can deliver with excellence. We will see hubris in bold, risky decisions that fly in the face of conflicting or negative evidence. We will see hubris in denying even the possibility that the enterprise could be at risk, imperiled by external threats or internal erosion. And we will encounter one of the most insidious forms of hubris: arrogant neglect.’
So, all things considered, we should be more open-minded about the positive side-effects and learning opportunities associated with failure.