How Must Entrepreneurs Treat Failure?

A Practical Solution

By Shlomo  Maital   

    failure

  Last evening, I spoke to a group of Brazilian entrepreneurs, here in Sao Paulo, at an accelerator, Startup Farm, run very well by Alan Leite.  In the latest round, over 130 projects have been through Alan’s capable hands.  

   In my brief talk, I tried to practice what I preach, and listened carefully to precisely which messages I brought resonated.  The key one, by far?  About failure.  Entrepreneurship is less about success than about failure, how you perceive it, how you relate it, and how society relates to it.  There are cultures where failure is treated as a personal crime; those cultures will never ever have entrepreneurs.

    My wife Sharona, a psychologist, listened to my talk and gave me valuable feedback afterward. She reminded me of work by Stanford Psychology Professor Carol Dweck, who has done pioneering work on ‘mindset’.   

  Here is a brief summary, in the context of startup failure.

   Mindset is a mental attitude that determines how you respond to situations. There are two types of mindsets. One is a fixed mindset, which assumes that intelligence is a fixed trait, and that all our qualities and capabilities are fixed, constant and constrained. The second is a growth mindset, which assumes that intelligence (and other capabilities) are qualities that change, grow and develop, especially when we work hard at it.  Why don’t we see unmotivated babies? Dweck asks. Because when babies learn to walk, stumbling is not failure, it is a vital step on the road to success…and because you have to learn to walk, you have to stumble and fall luntil you do.   Absolutely true of entrepreneurs, too.

   Entrepreneurs should have a growth mindset.  And they should use it to shape their perception of failure. 

     Failure can be regarded as personal:   I personally have failed. Or worse, I myself AM a failure.  My startup failed; I am a failure.

  1. Wrong. Wrong.

     Failure can be regarded as a learning experience; my startup failed, but I am a brave and courageous entrepreneur, because I attempted something very challenging, and did not succeed, but learned a great deal, and eventually I WILL succeed to change the world. 

      This is how entrepreneurs, and all of society around them, should, can and MUST interpret failure.  It is part of a growth mindset; failure is a step toward success.   Thomas Edison actually said that, when he tried 10,000 experiments to invent the filament of a light bulb, and each failure brought him closer to the final successful answer.

     Here is how Carol Dweck advises us to develop a growth mindset: 1.            Learn learn learn  2.   Realize hard work is key   3.  Face setbacks.     Focus on effort, struggle, persistence despite setbacks. Choose difficult tasks. Focus on strategies. Reflect on different strategies that work or don’t work. Focus on learning and improving. Seek challenges. Work hard.

    Thank you Professor Dweck!

 

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