Embracing Failure

Many motivational speakers, and a large number of self-help books, claim to possess the secret to success.  But insights on achieving success can also be found in less obvious places.  One such example is the book "Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle" by Dan Senor and Saul Singer.

Israel's ability to launch a large number of innovative high tech businesses is staggering given its small size.  The authors point out that recently Israel's share of the global venture capital market was around 31%, more than all of the United Kingdom, Germany, and France together.  Moreover, after the United States, Israel has more companies listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange than any other country, including all of Europe combined.

The book sets out to discover the reasons for Israel's success in generating start-up tech businesses.  The explanations are varied, including compulsory participation in the Israeli army, which provides young people with intensive, competitive training and the responsibility to solve problems in a sometimes hostile environment. 

One factor, however, seems just as applicable on the personal level as it does on the national level.  Senor and Singer claim that Israelis have a cultural tolerance for "constructive" or "intelligent" failures.  In the military, "there is a tendency to treat all performance – both successful and unsuccessful – in training and simulations, and sometimes even in battle, as value-neutral.  So long as the risk was taken intelligently, and not recklessly, there is something to be learned."  This translates into the business world as well, where "most local investors believe that without tolerating a large number of failures, it is impossible to achieve true innovation."

This approach is contrasted with countries which do not embrace the start-up culture.  These countries may be doing quite well economically, such as Singapore and Korea, yet the fear of losing face if a failure occurs stunts the willingness of entrepreneurs to move forward with new ideas.  It's not that that these countries do not have a lot of innovative talent, but the concern of being exposed while failing has inhibited start-up growth.

The willingness to accept failure is an essential component of success for two reasons.  One is the well known concept of "nothing ventured, nothing gained."  Equally important is that failure is a priceless learning experience that can lead to future success.

While the acceptance of failure is a key component to establishing innovative enterprises, this does not necessarily mean that undue risk need be taken to be successful in business.  As we will see in my next posting, it is the avoidance of reckless risk-taking that has served many successful business people extremely well.

Words of Wisdom

If you really want something in this life, you have to work for it.  Now, quiet!  They're about to announce the lottery numbers...
-- Homer Simpson