Overcoming failure and defying normal [Q&A]
This article is a crosspost from Nuwait.
Nine out of every 10 new startups will fail. While many entrepreneurs will acknowledge this fact, only few of them will acknowledge failure itself on a personal level.
The MENA region is no different from many of the more advanced ecosystems in the fact that people believe failure is the worst thing that they can do. According to Anthony Gerrard, Scottish social entrepreneur and expert in global entrepreneurial ecosystems, the problem stems from the educational systems around the world, that have bread the ‘fear of failure’ culture.
Having worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs across the region, Gerrard, who is also the founder and chief executive of Bad Idea, a training company that encourages creative ideas, shares below his insights on failure and how can entrepreneurs use it to their favor.
Nuwait: How do you define failure for an entrepreneur?
Gerrard: Giving up. That is the only way you can truly fail as an entrepreneur. You can make countless mistakes, but as long as you are always learning and adapting you will continue to move forward. It’s when you give up that you fail.
Nuwait: Businesses are measured by how much money they make. Do you agree with that?
Gerrard: It’s subjective. Just as beauty is said to be in the eye of the beholder, the same can be applied to success. If you ask the shareholders, then they will measure success by how much money is being made.
As a founder, I believe that businesses are measured by the value they create for customers. However, the more value you create, the more money you are likely to make. I also consider myself a social entrepreneur, so I also believe that a business should be measured by its impact on society or on the environment.
Nuwait: You trained a lot of entrepreneurs in the region. What do you think is the most common mistake they do?
Gerrard: The most common mistake I have observed in this region is people who think that being an entrepreneur is just having an idea and then getting the money to make it happen. The reality is, entrepreneurship is a journey, not a destination.
Nuwait: What do you think are the most common causes for failure for regional startups?
Gerrard: Many people are unprepared for the journey, and that is why they fail. Also, there is a significant lack of startups, which means there is a lack of entrepreneurial culture. If you are not surrounded by other entrepreneurs who are always learning, adapting and pivoting to survive or succeed, then it can be difficult to motivate yourself to keep going through the difficult times.
Nuwait: How can entrepreneurs respond constructively to failure?
Gerrard: Entrepreneurs need to start loving their mistakes more than their ideas. They have a habit of falling in love with their ideas and that makes it difficult for them to see the product or service from others’ point of view. Instead of starting with an idea that you are convinced it will succeed, start with the idea as a hypothesis that you want to test. This way, you give yourself permission for the original idea not to work, but find alternative ways for it to succeed.
Nuwait: What’s the most precious lesson you’ve learned from failure?
Gerrard: That no one has died! I know this seems a little melodramatic, but it is honestly the most precious lesson I have learned. Sometimes you can become so overwhelmed with the expectations that are placed on you by your team, investors, customers, friends, family, or even just yourself, that it can seem like the worst thing in the world is to fail. You build it up in your head so much that you actually lose sight of reality, and convince yourself that failure would be the most terrible thing imaginable. But in actual fact, no it's not. Something didn’t go as planned, but no one died! Learn and move on.
Nuwait: What are the best practices for sparking a constructive spirit within your employees after failure?
Gerrard: It is all about celebrating the mistakes for the learning you gain from them. There is a fantastic method for this called the ‘5 Whys’, designed in the 1950’s by Sakichi Toyoda and used by Toyota Motor Company. You can use this method in a team to explore the root cause of a problem, which helps you find a solution that enables you to start again. This turns the negative into a positive, and allows everyone to move forward with confidence.
Nuwait: How do people perceive failure in our region, versus in more advanced ecosystems?
Gerrard: It is no different. The only exception is Silicon Valley, where failure is celebrated. Apparently, it is now difficult to get investment there if you haven’t previously failed! I think that many lessons can be learned from this.
Feature image via Pixabay.