When you’ve experienced setbacks and failures in business, how do you respond? Do you see them as confirmation of any negative thoughts you might have that you’re not good enough or not cut out to be a great entrepreneur?
Or do you see setbacks and failures as opportunities to grow?
This is exactly what I want to talk about today because however much we tend to let these setbacks get on top of us, they actually play a key part in the entrepreneurial journey. We all know that the road to entrepreneurial success isn’t always an easy one and setbacks are all part of the process.
And we all have days where imposter syndrome sets in and we start to question why on earth we thought we were cut out for this in the first place.
If we let these setbacks get to us too much, they can really jeopardise our chances of success. How can we possibly motivate ourselves to keep going as entrepreneurs if every challenge is simply a confirmation of our perceived failures?
Instead, we need to do what the most successful entrepreneurs do when they face challenges: they seek valuable learning opportunities in failure.
As I write about this, I’m reminded of a famous Thomas Edison quote which you are likely already familiar with. On his journey to inventing the lightbulb, he is said to have failed a staggering 10,000 times before he came up with the solution.
Can you imagine how it would feel to fail not once, not a hundred times, but 10,000 times?
When asked how he persevered through so many setbacks, he simply said: “I have not failed 10,000 times – I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
The difference between someone who quits and someone successful like Thomas Edison is mindset.
Carol Dweck, a research psychologist at Stanford University, outlined in her book Mindset that individuals with a ‘growth’ mindset – people who enjoy learning and see failure as an opportunity to grow – develop more skills, perform better and show a remarkable ability to adapt to change. Edison’s response is a great example of someone with a growth mindset versus a more limiting ‘fixed’ mindset – put simply, someone with a fixed mindset often worries about how adequate or inadequate they are instead of looking for ways to develop their skills and get better. People with a fixed mindset also tend to believe that talent alone creates success and they can be reluctant to take on any challenges they perceive as being too much effort – which isn’t really conducive to learning and growing.
However, as I’ve mentioned before in a previous blog post, every entrepreneur has gone through many failures on the road to success. The difference between those who succeed and those who quit is that those who achieve success actually learn from their setbacks and failures.
They see mistakes as valuable in revealing what needs to be done differently next time. And that’s a much more positive (and far less stressful) way of looking at things.
I know it can be all too easy to throw in the towel during those low moments when something doesn’t turn out as well as you’d hoped.
But failure creates the space we need to grow – if only we let it. Growth in business doesn’t happen in your comfort zone. And this is exactly why the entrepreneurial journey can be so terrifying yet at the same time so rewarding when we learn from our past mistakes and finally get things right.
The next time you face a setback, keep that Thomas Edison quote in mind. Have you really failed? Or have you just found one more way that it won’t work, so you use it to move forward next time?
Note that I’m not telling you to jump in and take any old risk in your business. The most successful entrepreneurs are daring enough to take risks but disciplined enough to do this strategically, pausing before they pivot from one possible solution to the next.
Let’s think for a moment about how a scientist approaches an experiment. They will look at the data that already exists, make predictions based on past theories and look for ways to test them in detail.
They reflect, look for patterns and make adjustments until – eureka – they’ve found the answer that supports the theory they’re trying to prove. Any failures along the way are used as pointers and useful data that shows them how to approach things differently the next time around.
Imagine that the scientist took every one of those failed experiments personally. Before long, the sheer weight of self-doubt and frustration would have them quitting far too early, long before their ‘eureka’ moment.
How many times have you quit pursuing something you believed in for your business because you took setbacks personally?
Can you instead reframe it and tell yourself that you’ve simply found another way that won’t work and use it to move on with confidence for the next time you try?
Entrepreneurs, particularly those with a lot of creativity, have so many opportunities they could pursue, to the point where it can sometimes become overwhelming. How do you know where to direct your focus?
You can start by prioritising your values and business goals. What does success look like to you and why? Combining a fierce determination to succeed with a clear focus on the ‘why’ behind what you do can help narrow down your options. Ask yourself the following
Amazon Prime is one example of experimenting with an idea that aligned with their business goals and succeeded. Amazon’s internal website for employees has an online ideas box where people are encouraged to submit any creative ideas they can think of for business improvement. One of these employees, Charlie Ward, suggested offering free shipping as a way to boost customer loyalty. Customer loyalty is important for Amazon’s ongoing success, so it took this idea on board and created Amazon Prime membership.
Fast-forward to today and Amazon Prime has over 100 million paying members. Not bad for one little experiment, right?
American entrepreneur Malcolm Forbes once said: “Failure is success if we learn from it.”
And that’s a beautiful way to look at things. We’ve been conditioned from a young age, especially in those grade-driven academic environments at school, to fear failure as adults. We worry about looking foolish or undermining our professional reputation if we do anything less than perfect.
We might also find ourselves grappling with a social pressure to fit in with the group majority; one which doesn’t always favour thinking ‘outside of the box’.
But from today, I want you to have the courage to think outside of the box. I want you to change your perceptions and start seeing the valuable learning opportunities in failure as a way to help your business move forward. Remember to take time to reflect after every setback rather than ruminate on the negative. What worked? What didn’t? And what can you do differently next time?
The more you can look at things objectively rather than taking outcomes personally, the better your mindset will be to learn, grow and push forward.
Innovation and success don’t emerge from self-doubt. Instead, they emerge from real courage – and as an entrepreneur, you have bags of it. Remember, if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be on this path in the first place.
If you need some support in changing your mindset and having the courage to fail to reach success, I can provide the support you need to be brave and move forward. With 16 years of entrepreneurial experience behind me and having built up and sold four successful businesses myself, I’ve had so many valuable learning opportunities behind me that can help you move forward with yours too. Get in touch and let’s chat about where you could take your business next.
What can you learn from this week and where will it take you? With the right mindset and a clear vision for where you want to be, I promise you the possibilities are endless.
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