“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Our understanding of failure has a long ways to progress as a culture and a society. This is one of the significant pieces of “Soft Technology” that we have yet to have a mature relationship with.
This is easy to see from the connotations associated with the word in the first place. There are not many more negative ways to describe a project or an individual, than as a failure. It implies that not only was there a lack of success, but that it was inherently doomed to not be successful because of some inherent lack. Somehow this word carries so much more weight than simply than to state that a person or project did not achieve it’s goals.
As an entrepreneur my personal relationship with the concept of failure, both for myself and my projects, continues to develop nuance as I mature. It employs some degree of doublethink, to support the mutually necessary beliefs that:
The first is necessary to maintain sanity and the will to be a serial entrepreneur, the second is crucial to give any venture a chance to overcome the inevitable ‘insurmountable’ roadblocks all projects encounter.
This being said, I find it interesting that the largest challenge in accepting failure (for myself at least), is not the impact of the event itself, but it’s impact on the sense of self. The black hole that threatens to consume you when part of how you defined yourself internally and to the world fails, is a much greater blow than the direct financial or practical impacts from the failure.
There’s some irony in the fact that it is most comfortable to define yourself as a entrepreneur following success, however, it is in the state of uncertainty and failure that one is most an entrepreneur.
This internal tension between the vision we have of success in our minds, and the everyday reality of fighting through adversity, is one of the defining characteristics of being an entrepreneur. The similarities in this state to those that I imagine musicians and artists must maintain is revealing. This seems to be a necessary part of any creative endeavour.
Risk and creativity are critically important for a culture and society, now more than ever. To create value in a world of increasing automation and a rapidly changing nature of work, it will be the societies that discover how to embrace and incorporate failure into their cultures that will be successful.