When Failure Is Your Starting Point There Is Nowhere to Go but Up. Are you the type of person that’s always looking for a good challenge? Here’s one for you to consider: We want you to provide financial literacy and entrepreneurial training to one of the poorest communities in your state. In fact, it’s also one of the poorest communities in the nation. The community of nearly 9,000 people doesn’t own land for homes or businesses. In many instances the people there have no credit score. Less than 1 percent of the businesses in the community are owned by a community member, and more than 47 percent of the jobs in the community are not in the private sector, but are government-related. Are you up for the challenge? It’s exactly what Tanya Fiddler took on when she became executive director of the Four Bands Community Fund, which serves the members of the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation.
We hear it so often that it has become cliché. Small companies are nimble and move quickly where as large companies can muster significant resources but are slow to respond to emerging threats and opportunities. In response to their admitted slow pace many big companies have focused their attention on acquisitions as a way to mitigate threats and infuse new growth opportunities into their business.
Most startups will fail. Everyone in the startup community knows that failure is a more common occurrence than success. Silicon Valley has become so enamored by the “value of failure” that rumors suggest they are considering handing out merit badges for failed entrepreneurs. Just how common is startup failure? Harvard researcher Shikhar Ghosh cites that 75% of VC funded startups fail to return a single dime to their investors. So why do we hear so little about failed startups in Minnesota? Are we too “Minnesota nice” to brag about our failures?
From childhood we are taught about the importance of perseverance. We are told that in the face of adversity we are supposed to hold firm and to strive on. The truth is that this advice is easy to give but extremely difficult to put into practice. When we are faced with setbacks or failure we naturally question our approach, our abilities, and our determination. We know that most great success stories show the hero or heroine exiting from their experience stronger than they went in but we always question our own resolve.
We are constantly bombarded with the latest “innovation” stories from Silicon Valley tech startups. Almost never do we hear the stories of amazingly innovative non-profits – but trust me they do exist. As in business, sometimes innovation initiatives succeed but sometimes they miss the mark. How organizations chose to accept and learn from those failures can dramatically influence their future success. They are not just attempting to launch new initiatives, they are creating a culture of innovation.
I work with companies large and small who are trying to develop a sustainable innovation practice. They don’t just want to launch an idea on a wing and a prayer. They want to find a repeatable process that can improve their chances of success. Admittedly they have tried the wing and prayer route before and they know it doesn’t work. The truth is that most of these disruptive or exponential innovation initiatives don’t succeed. They fail. The challenge that these companies face is that they are trying to build the tools and processes but they struggle to address the culture. They never address the necessity of failure.
Last year I began writing an online column for Pollen titled Facing Failure as an effort to spark a discussion on the importance of failure in driving innovation in the non-profit, education, and government sectors. Most of us would prefer to avoid failure and the pain that it can cause but to truly create something new mistakes will need to be made along the way. In politics, a “failed” initiative can quickly sabotage a political career which is why most politicians are quick to dismiss or gloss over their shortcomings. But there are some politicians are trying to reframe the discussion with candor and transparency. I am excited to share my recent interview with one such politician, former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.
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