Monday, November 22, 2010

Business Design is a Contact Sport: Perfecting Failure

by Jean Brittingham

One of the biggest challenges out there for entrepreneurs is this idea that you have to get things right before you launch and that if you make mistakes, it will cost you big time.

If there is one thing I have learned over the years it’s that delay in getting your idea to market is not always good. That’s not to say you don’t have to have a plan, and a plan of action, and even a fallback plan. You absolutely do. But waiting too long is not going to help you and in fact can keep you from ever launching anything.
There are several places in the development of your business that you should be bold in putting your ideas out there and I’ll talk about that in a future post. 
But in the spirit of the “one-minute manager” for entrepreneurs, here’s my quick list!
  • Prototype, Test, Fail & Prototype
  • Ignore failure except to learn from it
  • Failing has no power of it’s own
  • Focus on what is working
  • Failure is success
These concepts seem to be particularly difficult for women entrepreneurs. It’s my opinion that this sense of needing to be “perfect” has deep roots in the conversation of our culture.  Dr. Alice Domar in her article on Why Do Women Need to Be Perfect, gets at some of the issues, but glosses over the fact that we live in a marketing bubble of male dominance that has consistently used perfection as a way to marginalize and minimize the impact and power of the feminine in our culture.
And while this fact is alarming, and it’s amazing to me that a clinical psychologist doesn’t see the link between Barbie Dolls, Beer commercials (with real life Barbie dolls free to the guy drinking the correctly branded beer), and the consistent marketing messages about how happy our families will be if only we get the right floor cleaner (and of course use it every time the dog comes in the house). That we seem to not have grasped how deeply and consistently we are marketed perfection is amazing to me.
But we’re really pragmatic here at The SmartGirl’s Way and we just want women entrepreneurs to succeed.  So here’s the truth about perfection. It will hold you back. It will keep you from starting and it will keep you from building the confidence you need to scale.
Here’s the truth about failure.  It’s your friend if you make it so. Thomas Edison is my person hero when it comes to failure. Some of his best quotes are here.
My favorite is “Nearly every man who develops an idea works at it up to the point where it looks impossible, and then gets discouraged. That's not the place to become discouraged.”
So here’s the thing to remember about design, improvement and failure:
  • Designing your business, product, service, world-changing breakthrough is a CONTACT SPORT.
  • Failure has no power of its own—only the power you give it.
  • You give failure power by the way you talk about it.
  • Focus on what worked.
  • Don’t spread fear of failure—your people will stop trying things and that is death for a start-up.
  • Create more experiments.
  • The more things fail, the more certain it is that something great will work.
Finally-keep those Edison quotes and a few others in front of you. One of the best things I learned from the male entrepreneurs I worked for before starting my own businesses was their great ability to tell a new story about a failure. Sometimes they went too far in my estimation and were manipulating others through the story they told. But for the most part, they were telling the story to themselves to force themselves to weave meaning from their learning, use it to expand their vision, build their network and stay on point with their business.
That’s a very good lesson.

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