No one likes failure — either when creating a startup, or doing anything else in life — and it’s certainly the case that everyone does their best to avoid it at every turn. The unfortunate fact is, however, that failure in life is inevitable. Your first startup may not fail — but you’d be a statistical anomaly, as most do — but sooner or later you’re going to run up against failure of one sort or another during the course of your professional life.
Fortunately, failure in business isn’t really the pure, unmitigated disaster that it’s made out to be. In fact, there are many ways in which failure can improve you for the mission ahead.
Here are a few of them.
Failure provides data on what doesn’t work
There’s a story that Thomas Edison, when called up on his numerous failures, once responded: “I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Failure may be devastating at the moment, but each failure actually provides invaluable data on what not to do going forward, if you’re able to take a step back and have an objective look at the situation.
To experience this benefit, however, you need to become good and comfortable with reflection, self-critique, and analysis.
Why did your last attempt fail? Was it because you didn’t work enough hours? Or because you invested your money poorly? Was it that your business model was fundamentally flawed in some way? Or maybe you didn’t account for the degree of competition to be found within that particular niche?
Whatever the reasons you identify, learning from your failures in this way increases your chances of success going forward, and decreases your risk of repeating the same errors as before.
Failure builds resilience and inoculates against naive-thinking
Perhaps when beginning your first startup, you were unbelievably excited about everything you did, and believed with a certainty that everything was going to work out in your favour. And then it didn’t.
If, instead of being crushed and giving up on the idea of running your own company altogether, you dusted yourself off and had another go, then you’ve become more resilient in the process.
Failure builds callouses, and although we need to be careful that these callouses don’t end up making us jaded, a tough skin is nonetheless essential for long-term success in business.
After getting a few failures under your belt, you’ll likely find you’ve become more pragmatic. You know failure is a possibility — and you know it doesn’t have to mean the end of you.
Failure encourages us to fill in the gaps in our knowledge
Failure has a way of holding up a mirror to our own shortcomings and weaknesses. With hindsight, we can see how our own character deficiencies, or lack of awareness or knowledge might have exacerbated the problems we faced.
As a result, we may commit anew to learning to trade shares, or attend classes and conferences we previously thought we were above.
As the saying goes, knowledge is power, and failure can be a great incentive to seek out further knowledge.