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?
I have been following the story of Elon Musk for several years now. His attitude toward innovation, risk taking and the possibility of failure is what I consider to be an “example of good.” This attitude has earned him a handsome fortune (worth $12b as of 2014) and a top spot in my “must interview” list for my book. In my previous world of new business development, my team and I had followed Musk’s company Tesla Motors closely as we were working on opportunities in the electric vehicle industry. At the time Musk had just begun general production of the Tesla Roadster and while it had won an award from Time Magazine as one of the best inventions of 2006 it was far from certain that the company could survive.
I am excited to be a panelist at the University of Minnesota’s “Finding Success through Failure” event on March 27th. The event is hosted by the University of Minnesota Office for Technology Commercialization and is always a great networking event for entrepreneurs or those looking to become an entrepreneur.
Over the last few years I have frequently helped friends and colleagues in their search to find new work opportunities. Every time I start our conversation by asking how they are building their personal brand. I know that it sounds a bit ridiculous but in the age of an abundance of job candidates, how are they going to stand out? How are they building their exposure to their professional network to improve the odds that they are found?
My article titled To Succeed in Business, Act Like a Child got published on The Washington Post – On Small Business Blog today. In the article I describe how if we want to encourage innovation in business we should follow the examples set by our children with their creativity, ambition, and fearlessness. As we get older we lose our tolerance for risk-taking and failure. We become conditioned to mitigate risks to preserve our wealth and egos. But there are ways that business leaders can promote risk-taking and failure: 1) intentionally hiring risk-takers, 2) creating policies that retain innovators, 3) purposely addressing risk-taking and failure, and 4) demonstrating transparency.
Last week I gave a presentation to a class of undergraduate students from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. The discussion was centered on the topic of failure and how the fear of business failure is relative based on where we live in the world. The students have spent the better part of the last year working on their startup business ideas and I was impressed with what the teams were able to accomplish and where they had admitted their failures. During the discussion one brave student admitted that he had felt a fear of failing during the course of launching their student business. When asked why he had explained that all of the students knew which projects from the previous year had done well and which had failed. He didn’t want his project to be on this year’s list of failed projects. He was interviewing with potential future employers and he wanted to be able to talk about his success.
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