A very British reluctance to embrace failure

I met a start up founder who was fascinated by my account of a business I had consulted with that had failed. I didn’t think it would be of such interest. I read that an estimated 90% of startups fail, and a quick Google will list numerous entrepreneurs giving accounts of their business fails and derived learnings.

But she said to me “I just wish people would tell me how they failed! I’m sick of hearing about all these successes when we learn far more from failures.” She was actually talking about businesses here in Britain in comparison with her time in the US.

We’ve all read about the Silicon Valley approach to failure — “fail often, fail fast’ — but I don’t think culturally that reached us here. Even when businesses are ‘in business’, they are sometimes so concerned with not looking like the sort of business that might fail, they talk the business up to the detriment of getting much needed support.

Some businesses for example don’t know when to stop selling. Start-ups regularly blow meetings with potential advisors by trying to impress them with how amazing they are, rather then telling them about their challenges and listening to some well-honed advice.

I also read recently about how analysts call a category of start-ups the ‘walking dead’ — making quantification of failing businesses so difficult. Basically impassioned start up founders will limp on for years, quietly slurping the dregs of investment cash and personal savings to keep going. I wonder if the walking dead in the UK outdo those in the ‘fail often, fail fast’ camp in Silicon Valley?

Why is this so important to discuss? As much as I like companies to embrace failure and talk about their challenges, I am a bit over the Silicon Valley mantra. A lot of money has circled that drain and I believe in proper evaluation and proof of concept before investment is awarded.

But I do think there’s a middle ground where we are comfortable saying ‘you know what? Things aren’t going as well as I’d like. Who can help me?’ Then more businesses would be successful, faster. Addressing your challenges early does not make you a failure. And if you do fail — share it!

The most experienced and successful leaders I work with do exactly this.


Originally published in the Leadership & Management channel on LinkedIn Pulse

Helen Gawor is Co-founder of The Advantage Machine. We have awesome free tools and content to support business owners and sales teams. Unleash your killer competitive advantage today www.theadvantagemachine.com

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