In the movie Apollo 13, NASA flight controller Gene Kranz tells crew members that “failure is not an option” as they battle to return to Earth.
While Mr. Kranz never actually used the quote in real life, it is widely cited to illustrate that not succeeding is unacceptable. After all, failure is a bad thing because success is everything.
This explains why there is an obvious fear of failure. Success is celebrated, while failure is ridiculed or criticized.
This is a misguided belief, particularly for people starting or growing businesses. While being successful is the ultimate goal, it doesn’t mean the path is going to be mistake-free. Somewhere along the way, strategic and tactical errors will happen that will prove challenging and frustrating.
You can’t be afraid to fail or to make mistakes. Failure needs to be embraced as a positive rather than a negative. If failure is not an option, it means taking the safe route rather than trying something that could become a big success.
There are opportunities that emerge when a risky decision has to be made, even if the prospects for success are uncertain. Either you jump with both feet and let the chips fall where they may, or you play it safe. Given the fear of failure, most people play it safe but the risk-takers are usually the ones who enjoy major success.
Take, for example, Steve Jobs, who decided Apple was going to get into the music business with the launch of the iPod. At the time, Apple was a struggling computer maker that had to accept a $150-million (U.S.) investment from arch-rival Microsoft.
Mr. Jobs was confident there was a huge opportunity for Apple to get into the digital music-player business because there was no dominant player.
The rest, as they say, is history but it is important to remember there was a lot of risk involved. If the iPod bombed, Apple’s prospects could have been extremely dim. Mr. Jobs wasn’t afraid to fail and, as a result, he set the stage for Apple to become one of the world’s most powerful and profitable technology companies.
Another example closer to home is a friend of mine, who is now a successful entrepreneur with a strong and attractive set of skills. The lessons he gained from a start-up that failed despite his best efforts have played a key role in helping him thrive today. At the time, these lessons were painful and expensive but they were, in hindsight, invaluable.
One of the biggest lessons entrepreneurs need to learn is that failure is an option. Failure can be a positive thing because there are a lot more valuable lessons in failure than success.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Mark Evans is a principal with ME Consulting , a content and social media strategic and tactical consultancy that creates and delivers ‘stories’ for companies looking to capture the attention of customers, bloggers, the media, business partners, employees and investors. Mark has worked with three start-ups – Blanketware, b5Media and PlanetEye – so he understands how they operate and what they need to do to be successful. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshUniversity and meshmarketing conferences.