Fear and Learning in Entrepreneurship
Talk to most any group of up-the-corporate-ladder types and mention the word “failure” and you will detect an almost-audible gasp, because a mistake or setback is often a career-stopper, or, at least, a blot on the record. For these cube-dwellers, an aversion to risk and “don’t take a chance and playing it safe” is seen as an antidote to a mistake that can knock the corner office train off its tracks.
Yet, talk to an entrepreneur or an enlightened CEO of a company who sees innovation and creativity as the path to profitability and long term sustainability, and they will talk openly about failure, mistakes and setbacks as things that are just a part of that journey, process or path along the way to success.
Organizations, not just individuals, learn from mistakes or failure. Boeing became a success in the passenger jet market with its initial workhorse, the 707, by learning from the sometimes tragic mistakes of the Comet, the first passenger jet to be extensively used in commercialair travel. By studying metal fatigue design mistakes made in the Comet that literally caused its wings to fall off in mid-flight, Boeing engineered into its 707 the wingspan “flex” that is so common in aerodynamic airplane design today.
Thomas Edison, acknowledged as one of the post-industrial age’s most commercially-prolific inventor and innovator, and whose work laid the foundation of one of today’s most admired companies, General Electric, is well known, not only for his inventive genius, but also for his high propensity toward failure. Even after he had a long track record of commercial success, he failed miserably in “Edison’s Folly”, an attempt later in his career to revolutionize the iron ore processing industry, but kept trying for a dozen years until he finally found success in developing this industry process.
What we can take from successes stories like Thomas Edison is that the journey to success is a journey with many milestones--some are positive and productive and some are setbacks, mistakes and failure--it is not what we lose from the setbacks, rather what we have learned, and apply, to make the future a success.
About the author: Steven Stralser Ph.D. is a Clinical Professor of Entrepreneurship at Thunderbird School of Global Management and author of the best-selling “MBA in a DAY: What you would learn at Top-Tier Business Schools if you only had the time!)” and developer of MBAinaDAY Online, the six-hour web-delivered e-learning program based on his book.