There's so much glory built around the potential for failure in the world of entrepreneurship.
At least in VC-backed tech, you're not really an entrepreneur (not my assessment) until you've lived through at least one big flame-out. The lack of this experience, some even say, might be a barrier to funding because the smart money wants to know you know how to weather a storm before entrusting you with another tranche of other peoples' money.
VC's and angels know 5 out of 10 investments will evaporate. Three in 10 will break even. One will do okay. One more will do really well. And one in a hundred or a thousand will be the next twitter. Founders know this, too. Everyone's betting on the monster hit that will make up for the dogs 1,000 times over. In that world, failure is an accepted and even mandatory part of the path to success. Just part of the game.
But what about the world of everyday mortals?
Bootstrap entrepreneurs and artists where what's on the line is what's in your bank account, your credit card or line of credit? Where it's not so easy to walk away from a big mistake? Is the potential for failure still an important, even mandatory part of the equation?
Answer. Much as we wish it wasn't so. Still, yes.
Entrepreneurship—or any process that seeks to evolve the status quo—requires you to regularly test commonly held limits and beliefs. The natural outcome of this is that sometimes you’re right, other times you’re wrong. Either way, you never know until you get out of your head and take action in the world.
The potential not just for failure, but failure that matters, failure you feel, must be on the table. If it's not, then what you're setting out to do is either so safe or so devoid of the the potential for impact that success might allow you to check a box on a piece of paper, but beyond that, nobody'll care. Including you.
Sure, there are ways to chunk both risk. To create many more smaller, more incremental opportunities for failure and success. Lean methodology and it's Japanese forefather, Kaizen, are examples. But there is no way to completely eliminate it. Because...
The same circumstance that presents the potential to fail also serves as a gateway to the opportunity to succeed. You cannot close the door on the former, without also closing the door on the latter.
So, yes, living, acting and deciding to move forward in the face of potential failure isn't easy. Especially when it requires you to go all in. And especially later in your lifecycle when you've got more on the line. To risk success in art, in business, in love, in life is, indeed, a bit terrifying.
But really, what's the alternative?
Jonathan Fields is a serial-entrepreneur, business strategist, speaker and author. His latest book is Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel For Brilliance. Fields writes about performance-mindset, innovation, leading and entrepreneurship at JonathanFields.com