To Gain Success, Embrace Failure
Fear of failure is often a deterrent to innovation, investment and growth.
By Larry Walsh
Did you know Microsoft was not Bill Gates’ first company? True fact: Gates and business partner Paul Allen’s first venture was a company called Traf-O-Data, which developed technology that processed data from paper tapes used by traffic meters. They wanted to aggregate the data and sell it back to cities and states to improve transportation planning.
Traf-O-Data was an abject failure. The technology and equipment was buggy and, as Gates and Allen discovered, a market didn’t exist for the refined data they wanted to produce. Undeterred by their failure, they went on to found “Micro-Soft” (the original spelling), one of the most influential and successful technology companies in history and the source of Gates’ vast fortune.
Another fact of business: Most ventures fail. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, as much as 60 percent of all business startups never make it past their first year. And, surprisingly, businesses that last a decade still have a failure rate of 55 percent.
Unfortunately, the fear of failure is a deterrent to innovation, investment and growth. IT vendors and solution providers hold back from trying new markets, technologies and business models out of fear of disrupting their existing revenue streams. Worse, many companies back away from investment because they look at the upfront costs and the potential for not making back their money. They hold back on investments – or risks – even as they see legacy business practices and products decline in value.
Fear is a powerful deterrent, and for good reason. Fear keeps decision-makers from making bad decisions. However, fear can be taken too far in preventing these leaders from making calculated choices that result in returns on investment. No one should make blind decisions; every opportunity and venture should have a cost-benefit analysis to measure the risk versus reward. Risk management, through due diligence, mitigates exposure to negative consequences – it doesn’t eliminate the potential for bad things to happen, it allows a business to venture into new opportunities with decreased worry.
What technology companies shouldn’t do is put fear of failure in front. Even the best-planned and carefully executed business venture has some probability of failure. And, even in failure, lessons can be learned that can lead to future success. Gates, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison all ended up doing great things after abysmal failures.
The lesson: No success comes without accepting risk and, in the event of failure, you always have the opportunity to try again. Failure is a learning tool, not a reason to avoid trying.