As professionals, we tend to hold ourselves to the highest of standards. When we work hard, and take pride in that work, accepting a defeat can be quite demoralizing.
While failure at major corporates– due to speedy, under-informed decisions, “just-good-enough” deliverables, or missed quotas– could lead to a sacking, failure at a startup is, in fact, embraced. “Fail fast” is a popular startup slogan. Similarly, in its younger years, social behemoth Facebook promoted this philosophy with the motto “move fast and break things” (just recently reframed as “move fast with stable infrastructure,” now that their large company culture no longer supports a trial-by-fire strategy).
Outlandish though it may seem, failure in your startup job can actually incite company growth and career success on the long-term. At Startup Institute, we work with individuals in our full-time programme to learn to leverage such failures in their, and their company’s, favor. Here’s why:
- Failing fast = Learning fast: When working at a startup, the only certainty is uncertainty. With little money, few resources, and a small team, running a startup comes down to a lot of guesswork. Rather than building a fully-refined product, programmers operate under agile methodology– releasing experimental versions to the market that can be tested and iterated on quickly. Instead of wasting time and money on a completed work, only to find out it’s not what customers are looking for, developers move forward letting consumers’ needs drive their choices. This iterative, learning-centric focus permeates all startup roles and operations. Failure is inescapable; in using failure to inform future decisions, you can help to steer your company toward success.
- Failure cultivates humility: Failure removes ego, opening your mind for increased growth. Working at a startup, you’ll be no stranger to disappointing outcomes, but as a humble learner you’ll be better inclined to accept and respond to feedback from colleagues in a meaningful sense. This will accelerate your professional growth while making way for a broader appreciation of the perspectives and creativity your teammates bring to the table.
- Failure builds resiliency: Growing a company is met with a hefty share of up’s and down’s. Long hours, rejection, and endless setbacks can be draining, but great startup employees are passionate, and passion is a key ingredient to resiliency. Remaining mission-focused will allow you to bounce-back undefeated and hack at problems until you’ve found a workable solution. This unwavering tenacity will make an impression on your supervisors, regardless of career path.
- Failure breeds fearlessness: For companies, as for individuals, fear is a brick wall in the path of progress. Startups understand that failure is a function of trying and that inciting disruption in an industry can only be stifled by fear. Exposure to failure will grow you as a professional by proving that these failures can lead to optimized results. Without fear standing in your way, you’ll be able to make loftier strides in your own startup career.
Startup companies are high-growth because they value growth. Viewing failure as a learning tool, rather than a cause for discipline, allows startup workers to exercise greater creativity, take more chances, and stretch themselves as professionals.
A good batting average is .30, a good batter expects to miss 70% of the time – that’s in the linear, predictable world of sports!
In startup land the failure rate is much, much higher than that! Startups (and often individuals) operate in a world where numerous failures are punctuated by improbable, disproportionally impactful successes. Sometimes all one needs is to be resilient and push forward.
Great entrepreneurs like Paul Graham are well aware of this. Check out his essay “How Not To Die” for more http://www.paulgraham.com/die.html
Finance folks probably first described the phenomenon, called “Convexity” that describes how a series of negative outputs can be swept away by a positive output many orders of magnitude greater. (the opposite is also true) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convexity_%28finance%29
Excellent post, this is a critical mindset to have as a startup employee.