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Digital Britain: When Failure Matters

March 1, 2012
at 7:00 am PST

Being born and bred in Britain I have obviously adopted the typical British way of thinking – avoid failure at all costs.  This mindset is being echoed by start-ups in the UK who are seeking funding from British venture capitalists (VCs) – apparently, they’re risk adverse in their investments, when compared to their U.S. counterparts.

Perhaps they should consider adopting the guidance from the inspirational British Prime Minster, Sir Winston Churchill. He said “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”

With the recent exposure that the East London Tech City area has been getting, and from my own meetings with some of the local entrepreneurs, I’ve concluded that the spirit of “dust yourself off and try again” is actually starting to sink in.

When it is Okay to Fail

I was reading an article about venture capital investment in the U.S. marketplace and it occurred to me that unless you have a couple of failures in your start-up career, people won’t always take you seriously. Maybe that’s what is meant by the term “a seasoned executive.”

You win some; you lose some – that’s life. Clearly, this notion — the essence of true entrepreneurship — is a big cultural contrast to the pervasive attitudes that we find in the UK.

From my own experience, when I have failed at something, I have generally learnt the most and have developed the most. Moreover, I discovered that if we share these experiences, then others can also learn from our mistakes.

Do you remember when you learned to ride a bicycle; did you succeed the first time? Probably not, but did that first experience teach you how not to ride a bike?

That being said, here in Britain, when entrepreneurs are ready to start a new business, we tend to expect that it must succeed first time around – is this realistic, given the odds of attaining success?

I know from my own perspective, there is a distinct element of fear and negativity towards failure.  But when I have pushed myself and moved forward with a potential risky situation, the rewards experienced far outweigh my initial fear.

At the end of the day, if you dont take the risk, then you won’t receive the benefits.

This is applicable to the start-up scene and the corporate world as well – people always seem quick to point out flaws in a business idea or new way of doing something, rather than encouraging people to step out and try something new.

If a new venture doesn’t pan out, then let’s focus on the outcome – it’s all about the learning experience, not the fact that it didn’t meet the intended objective. After all, is it not better to have tried and failed — to have learnt and developed — rather than not to try at all?

In Recognition of Celebrated Failures

I’m thinking that we Brits need to encourage the few people who are willing to fearlessly start something new from the ground up. We also need to create and nurture a commercial environment that enables the launch of many more new small businesses.

Besides, we must learn to accept that sometimes the creative mind may instinctively refuse to conform to conventional wisdom. That’s okay – even knowing that sometimes there will be major setbacks before there are significant advances.  Take the late Steve Jobs, as an example; imagine if he had given up before he had started to turn Apple back into a success story – with applied innovation.

Let’s stop seeing failure as purely a negative, when it’s really part of a useful learning path.

If failure happens, we need to embrace it for what it is – progressive action towards a goal.

Thomas Edison, the famed American inventor, once said “I haven’t failed; I have just found 300 ways not to make a light bulb.”  This is likely the perspective that many accomplished experimenters will have – they’ve just moved one step closer to the discovery of a unique product offering.

I have a postcard on my refrigerator door at home which includes a wise motto — “Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.”  My fellow Brits, I’m sensing that it’s time for us to step out, shake things up and start innovating.  As always, I welcome your thoughts.

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3 Comments.


  1. Totally agree!
    and yes, we won’t get a digital britain if we don’t push ahead and figure out a way to get a fit for purpose connection for everyone, not just the low lying fruit in urban tower blocks.
    That is why B4RN (Broadband for the Rural North) is pushing ahead and laying fibre to the farms. If they can do the hardest to reach places it will spur competition on to fibre up the cities, before the new entrants take all the customers…
    And if we fail? we won’t. And no-one can say we didn’t try.
    chris

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  2. March 5, 2012 at 9:35 am

    Very insightful. For whatever it is worth, each time I have failed in anything, occassions for which have been plenty, I have tried to gain inspiration from Einstein’s famous quotes, which have suited my goals in life so very well:

    1) The ideals which have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Kindness, Beauty, and Truth. The trite subjects of human efforts, possessions, outward success, luxury have always seemed to me contemptible.

    2) Try not to become a man of success but rather to become a man of value.

    And the last quote is the best of the lot, IMHO:

    3) If A equals success, then the formula is: A = X + Y + Z. X is work. Y is play. Z is keep your mouth shut.

    :-)

    santanu

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  3. David Deans

    @Chris, thank you for sharing your thoughts. Understood, regarding the significance of having access to broadband infrastructure.

    @Santanu, agreed, now is a good time to focus on a substantive and compelling formula for our personal success. Thank you for taking the time to share that insight.

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