Victor’s Insider Scoop on Fear and Learning in Entrepreneurship
January 10th, 2009 | top of page

What’s one key difference between an employee intent upon ascending the corporate ladder of success to a corner office and any entrepreneur or employee in a company led by an innovator? One patent disparity will be their impression of what the word failure might mean to their future success.

The ladder climber will view any failure they are implicated in as an impediment to their ascent. Failure is an event to be avoided at all costs by the employee. The fear resulting from this attitude is visible in their unwillingness to color outside the lines or to rock the boat lest it tip over with them visible at the helm.

Talk to any group of up-the-corporate-ladder types and mention the word failure and you will detect an almost-audible gasp. A mistake or setback is often a career-stopper or, at least, a roadblock to their ascent. For these cube-dwellers, aversion to risk and don’t take a chance and play it safe attitudes are seen as an antidote to a mistake that can derail the corner office train. Yet, talk to an entrepreneur or an enlightened CEO of a company who sees innovation and creativity as part of the path to profitability and long-term sustainability, and this person will talk positively about failure.

Mistakes and setbacks are seen as an unavoidable part of the journey on the road to success. Organizations, not just individuals, learn from mistakes and failure.

Boeing became a success in the passenger jet market with its workhorse, the 707, by learning from the mistakes it made with the Comet. The Comet was the first passenger jet to be extensively used in commercial air travel. By studying metal fatigue design mistakes made in the Comet that literally caused its wings to fall off in mid-flight, Boeing engineered “flex” into the wingspan of its 707.

Thomas Edison, who is acknowledged as one of the last century’s most prolific inventors, is not only well known for his inventive genius but also for his many failures. Even after he had a long track record of commercial success, Edison failed miserably later in his career trying to revolutionize iron ore processing. Undaunted, he kept trying for a dozen years until he finally found success in developing this industrial process. What we can take from success stories like Edison’s and Boeing’s is that the road to success is a journey with many parts. Some are positive and productive, and some are setbacks, mistakes and failures. It is not what we lose from the setbacks that count. It is what we learn and apply from mistakes to make future endeavors successful

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