By Amy Rosen
President and CEO, NFTE
We celebrate the persistence of entrepreneurs who make it.
We marvel at the ability of some to be flexible and adapt.
But the truth is we could not appreciate or even recognize persistence or flexibility without acknowledging failure – the adverse, sometimes crushing consequences of trying new things.
Those who teach it, study it or work in entrepreneurship call it ‘taking risk.’ By which we mean, of course, tempting failure.
But show me someone who succeeded without failing and I’ll show you someone who wasn’t challenged. Almost no successful entrepreneur succeeded at their first venture. Or even third. And some of our most celebrated entrepreneurs are still taking risks – and failing.
Like it or not, failure is an essential and overlooked part of the entrepreneurial arc.
Even Thomas Edison, among our most revered entrepreneurs and innovators somewhat famously embraced his failures in inventing the light bulb when he said, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”
Yet when you ask would-be entrepreneurs what keeps them from starting a new business or launching a new idea, the answer you get as often as anything is the fear of failure.
It’s easy to understand. From an early age we celebrate winning – good grades, athletics, earning allowance. And we punish failure – stigmatizing losers, denying opportunities.
But when it comes to entrepreneurship at least, it should not be that way.
One of the first things we can do is create safe spaces for young entrepreneurs to fail. And there’s no better place to do that then in the same high school classrooms that usually only honor those who achieve academic success.
In more than 25 years of teaching the entrepreneurship mindset, we’ve learned that giving that safe space is essential. We know that a young person’s initial experiences must reward processes such as good plans and thoughtful budgets in a supportive environment.
Incentivizing good innovation, planning and presentation practices, while on the sidelines of the real marketplace, reduces the pain of failure. And it makes our students more likely to display perseverance and flexibility by trying again.
That’s what we want entrepreneurs to do.
As much as we invest serious time, energy and capital into teaching the tools of success like STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and coding skills, we should invest in the mindset of overcoming failure.
Those of us who are leaders in teaching and modeling the skills and mindsets of successful entrepreneurs – especially successful entrepreneurs themselves – should publically recognize that failure isn’t always bad.
Failure is necessary.
Moreover, if we want tomorrow’s entrepreneurs to be persistent and adaptive, we should not allow the words fail and fatal to be confused. They are not synonyms.