Stop Embracing Failure

Stop Embracing Failure
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If I read one more article by an entrepreneur about embracing failure, I will scream. Actually, my scream is this article. Yes, almost every entrepreneur fails at some point in his or her career. That includes such greats as Steve Jobs.  

And, we should be careful not to create a culture where people fear failure.  Sometimes the greatest risk of all is to take no risk at all. So that means we must encourage prudent risk taking with the realization that not every new idea will have a positive return on investment.

But accepting failure and embracing it are very different. I agree with the former; I struggle mightily with the latter. I read one article that waxed so poetically about embracing failure that I ran out to look for “congratulations on your failure” greeting cards. I could not find any.

Related: Former Apple CEO John Sculley: You Learn From Your Mistakes, Not Your Successes

Confession: I am an entrepreneurial lawyer. No, that is not an oxymoron.

I sometimes hear lawyers talking about avoiding risk  I respond there is no such thing as risk avoidance, only choosing and balancing risks. I sometimes hear entrepreneurs talking about necessary failures as a form of success. I am less vocal but I disagree that failure is success, even where necessary.

Rather than embracing failure, accept it, learn from it and then try again. In hospitals and other settings, when something goes wrong with a patient’s treatment, there is often an RCA -- root cause analysis. Why did the potentially avoidable happen?

Entrepreneurs, do your own root cause analysis.  Figure out why and where you failed so next time you are more likely to succeed.

To borrow from Wikipedia: The primary aim of root cause analysis is to identify the factors that resulted in the nature, the magnitude, the location, and the timing of the harmful outcomes (consequences) of one or more past events; to determine what behaviors, actions, inactions, or conditions need to be changed; to prevent recurrence of similar harmful outcomes; and to identify lessons that may promote the achievement of better consequences. "Success" is defined as the near-certain prevention of recurrence.

Related: Learn to Survive Setbacks

More specifically, ask yourself:

1. Goals.

Was my goal clear? You may be surprised how many failures exist because the goal was not defined.

2. Time line.

Did I have a clear time line to get there? Set a realistic time frame and build in time to make sure you can gather the support you need and overcome the obstacles that are foreseeable.

3. Team.

Did I have the right team supporting me? No one can do it alone. Pick those who see possibilities with realistic assessments of limitations as opposed to those who  can see only what can go wrong or those who think nothing can go wrong.   

4. Obstacles.

Did I anticipate obstacles in advance and minimize them? If you don’t see them, you will fail. Know what we are trying to mitigate, not eliminate, them. You cannot control everything….I think.

5. Influence.

Did I try to increase my chance of success by using influence as opposed to blatant directives? Influence is power so you are more likely to be successful if people share your vision as opposed to doing what they are told to do.

Related: When Millionaires Make Mistakes

6. Feedback.

Ask for feedback from others on how to do better next time. You gain not only their ideas but also their engagement.  Plus, if you are the driver on the mission unaccomplished, it is hard to have sufficient distance to see critically what needs to change.

7. Personal responsibility.

We need to take personal responsibility for failures, but not take them personally (to borrow from Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook). The difference between the two is the difference between day and night and the ability to have the resilience to bounce back.