Most of you have probably seen “Apollo 13” and/or heard one of the best lines from the movie.
I know you’ve heard it because it entered our vernacular exactly 5 minutes after the film was released. Managers love it. Politicians love it. Hell, even pastors love it. It projects leadership and determination. Through sheer willpower and brilliance, no quarter will be given. Obstacles will be overcome in a perfect manner. At the end we’ll all sit around the campfire singing “kumbaya”. This is good right?
What a crock of shit. Can we banish this cliche? I’m so tired of hearing it as a substitute for real leadership.
Here’s the dirty truth - failure is always an option and often it’s inevitable.
If you’re doing anything innovative, at some point you’re going to fail – it’s that simple. A good indicator of how successful you and your startup is going to be is how you handle such failure. Do you learn from your mistakes and move on? Do you start playing the blame game and its assorted defensive maneuvers? Do you prefer a scorched earth policy creating wreckage and carnage in your path while you inflict your revenge on the guilty and innocent alike? Do you coo “that’s OK” while the same failure keeps happening again and again and again?
In software development and entrepreneurship, you’ll have many paths to take, none of which are clear before you take the first step. You don’t know what you don’t know. As such, failing means you learned what didn’t work. Don’t underestimate knowing what didn’t work. As long as you’re getting closer to your goal, you haven’t failed; rather, you took a detour. Did you make the the best decision you could with the incomplete information you had at the time? If so, how is that failure? Get up, dust yourself off, and get going again. Self-pity is dangerous because it leads to inaction and that’s the real failure.
Experience is just another name for your collective failures. If I listed all of my failures throughout my career, you’d have big failures, small failures, and a lot in between. I wince at some of them and smile at others. One of my biggest failures with Blue Violin was thinking I could do everything myself and not recruiting a complete team. It still hurts. However, what I learned from Blue Violin (mistakes and all) is being put to use at the startup I’m currently with where I get to make a whole bunch of brand new mistakes. See how this works?
Failure is a by-product of taking risks and taking action. I have no tolerance for those in the peanut gallery who take potshots at those who have failed while themselves doing nothing. Hindsight is always 20/20 while foresight is like driving in a heavy fog with severe astigmatism. If you’re so damn omnipotent, get off your ass and attempt to accomplish something or shut the hell up. If I wanted to listen to whining, I’d watch Fox News.
Just so we’re clear, incompetence, greediness, laziness, arrogance et. al. must be dealt with swiftly and with a heavy hand. Failure with the aforementioned root causes isn’t something you should tolerate of yourself and others. In startups, they’re deadly.
If you keep making the same mistakes ad infinitum, you’re just stubborn. Here’s a quarter – go buy a clue.
Go out and fail because it’s the only way you’ll ever succeed.