One of the things about being in a start up is there is a high failure rate. As a matter of fact, and statistics, most fail. Learning from failure is one of the tricks of the game. Marc Pincus failed time and time again before Zynga ($ZNGA). The companies challenges since going public are just a different version of failure.
But, when companies fail, there is a last day. A finality. Coming to grips with it can be rough. There are a lot of trite sayings around failure. “It’s darkest before the dawn.” Blah blah blah. Easy to say, but tougher to internalize. Although, sometimes a good quote can get you pointed in the right direction.
For me, failure later in life was rougher than earlier. Maybe it’s because I had more on the line. Mentally, as you get older, failure sometimes feels tougher-except if you have failed enough in life you learn to roll with the punches and get going quickly. The other problem with failure as you get older, you have less options. Doors have been closed due to life experience or age. When you are young and fail, you have the ability to try new things or remake yourself.
The worst thing you can do with your life is fear failure. Taking calculated risks should be taught to everyone at a young age. That’s one of the reasons I detest the “everyone gets a prize”, “everyone is special”, mentality. Yes, everyone is a unique individual-but until you execute and do something not everyone is special. Our society has taken that to an extreme where it becomes harmful to people’s psyche later in life. You have to learn how to overcome loss in order to succeed and learning it with small losses early in life toughens you up for what comes later.
When I was trading, I never really thought about going broke. It could have happened just about every day I guess, but there were only a few days in my life that it was a reality. I failed a lot when I traded. Literally, everyday. Not everyone was a winner. It wasn’t luck. It was hard work. As I progressed in my career, I wound up even having losing years. Have you ever gone years without making a penny? I have. It’s not fun. I am reminded of a John Wooden quote, ”
Failing to Prepare is Preparing to Fail
You have to prepare. If you have done all that you could do before entering, and you still fail-make sure that you have created some sort of support system for yourself so that when you fall it’s not fatal. That support system allows you to bounce back more quickly and move on.
Running a business is tough. I guarantee that not everything will work. Hypothesis are formed, and tested. Some work, most don’t. Listening to the marketplace is an extremely tough skill to acquire. Tougher still is anticipating change, and preparing for it. Another great Wooden quote,
Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be.
In this day and age, things move really fast. It’s not only trading that has been speeded up, it’s life in general. Companies form, and disintegrate quickly. New markets are created and exploited with lightening speed. Learning how to fail, roll with the punches, and then seizing opportunity is a skill that you need to have.
If you have little kids, let them fail. Let them make mistakes. Then counsel them about how they could either prepare better the next time to have success, or change what they are doing to make them successful. They’ll thank you when they are older.
With employees, you have to give them a certain amount of rope. Not everyone will accomplish tasks the same way. Once you find something that works, spread the practice throughout your company. As CEO, your role is to chart a vision, not necessarily the exact path on how to get there. Let the marketplace of ideas, and the cold hearted customer tell you the way.
Doing what I do now, I listen a lot. Instead of being a gladiator in the arena, I am more like Coach Wooden. A lot of coaching is helping your players bounce back and keep their chins up. Because you know that when they are in the arena, not every thing will go as planned.
When did you fail? What did you learn? How did you change? What did you change the next time you took a risk?