Is the Secret to Success… Failure?

There’s an article in the New York Times that goes in depth into one of the most important recurring entrepreneurial themes: that a major secret to success is failure.

There are a number of reasons why failure is extremely important:

  1. Entrepreneurship is about starting new things. If it’s new, it means in reality you don’t know how it works. Whether you’re doing something completely new, like a revolutionary new killer app, or just trying to do something better, such as building the world’s best swing dance school, the assumption is that you don’t yet know the best way.
  2. Small means quick. It’s easier for small companies to make changes quickly. Conversely, big corporations tend to have a lot of cash but have to go through a lot of bureaucracy in order to change, leading to a tendency to use money to “power through” bad ideas with advertising and staff. So as a new business owner, you need to leverage what you have: the ability to recognize and fix mistakes early rather than spend money.
  3. You learn more from failure than success. When you succeed immediately at something, it’s hard to figure out why. How much was luck? How much was timing, choosing the right staff, creating a brilliant marketing campaign… and how much was that the product was great? When you fail, it’s often easier to see what went wrong. Maybe the customers loved the product, but too few of them heard about it. Or maybe the early adopters loved it, but you tried to mainstream it too quickly and turned off people will a product that was too rough around the edges.
That’s why great entrepreneurs need such a delicate mix of humility and confidence: you need to have the unbreakable confidence that you will succeed, but the humility to realize that you don’t yet know how.
More from the New York Times: What if the Secret to Success Is Failure?