The Harvard Business Review, that white-shoe paragon of scholarship in successful corporate management and analysis, devoted it’s entire April edition to the most un-Harvardlike of subjects: Failure. HBR is on to something here. It’s April issue is particularly applicable to the entrepreneur in the contemporary world and our current unstable business environment.
What the Harvard Business Review is on to is neatly summed up by Adi Ignatius, the editor-in-chief, in his introductory column titled, “When We Fail at Failure.” He describes his issue as “examining the art and science of failing well.”
I recommend the April magazine, if you can still buy or access it, and I will not go into a listing of its many topics here, except to say that anyone who hasn’t explored failure and its variegated lessons is missing an essential tool, not only for entrepreneurial success, but also for fully living life. (I’ve already blogged very personally about this on 1/19/2010 and 1/26/2010, if you’re interested.)
One of the things I find common to entrepreneurs is a joi de vivre in the high-risk creative business process, a sense that the joy of the journey is as spiritually nurturing as the achievement of the business goal. So, the psychologically healthy entrepreneur must accept and grow from failures.
I in no way mean to say that failure, per se, is good. It is so painful and frightening. I’ve been through it a lot. Rita Gunther McGrath sums this up neatly in an essay called “Failing by Design” in the previously mentioned HBR issue. She says, “[Failure] can waste money, destroy morale, infuriate customers, damage reputations, harm careers, and sometimes lead to tragedy. But failure is inevitable in uncertain environments, and, if managed well, it can be a very useful thing. Indeed, organizations can’t possibly undertake the risks necessary for innovation and growth if they’re not comfortable with the idea of failing.”
Friedrich Nietsche famously said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Not a bad mantra for the entrepreneur, but I prefer the simple sanguine confidence of Babe Ruth on the subject of the “F” word. He said, “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.”