Entrepreneurs Society, Newcastle University
Failure is a concept that people spend their time avoiding, as it’s associated with negative connotations of rejection, sadness and giving up. At a younger age, school teaches us that failure is unfavourable through systems such as the PASS/FAIL entrance exam. However, in the world of innovation it’s seen as a positive, and often a business will focus more on its failures than successes. In Silicon Valley, arguably the home of innovation, failure is worn as a ‘badge of honour’, but what explanation can be given for innovator’s irrational obsession with such a negative concept?
‘Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently’
– Henry Ford
Henry Ford is seen as one of the most successful businessmen of all time, creating the concept of mass production of cars and applying it to develop the iconic Model-T. As an innovator, he understood the benefits of failure, recognising that there is more to learn from it than there is from success. The comprehension of this concept can distinguish successful companies from unsuccessful ones.
The experience of failing offers a unique opportunity that success doesn’t, by giving the chance to learn from the mistakes previously made. Failures highlight the reasons why the idea wasn’t as successful as innovators had thought it would be, which means they have the chance to re-design their concept and re-attempt to prove its commercial value. No one better embodies this than Sir James Dyson, who used failure to build what is now a multi-billion-dollar company. Their ground-breaking product, the Dual Cyclone, took 15 years and 5,126 versions before it could be commercialised. Dyson could visualise a product that would disrupt the industry but knew that it would only be through repeated failure that it could succeed.
Failure is worn as a badge of honour in places like Silicon Valley because potential investors will investigate whether the entrepreneur has failed in the past. In regular life, past failures can hold you back e.g. you’re less likely to get a loan if you’ve been bankrupt recently. However, in the investment world, a failure on a past project will most likely mean you’ve had a unique experience that investors are looking for. If you’ve failed in business, then you know how the process works, and if you’re able to ‘fail fast’ (i.e. search out failure, learn from it, then repeat the process till you succeed) then investors will see potential in your product because it’s got through those early failures (similar to Dyson). Moreover, investors will recognise your potential as an innovator, because they see the resilience you’ve already demonstrated, which will go a long way in keeping the business successful.