Nothing succeeds like failure, the old joke goes. We love stories about business sensations, like Facebook, and want to know the secret behind their “overnight success”. But the real secret is making mistakes – often many of them. Failure is actually an essential ingredient of success – a fact that is all too often overlooked in today’s winner-obsessed society.
James Dyson is one successful entrepreneur who embraces failure, because he sees it as an essential step towards eventual triumph. He told entrepreneur.com in November last year: “Failure is interesting – it’s part of making progress. You never learn from success, but you do learn from failure.”
Dyson spent 15 years developing 5,126 prototypes of his revolutionary vacuum cleaner before version 5,127 became a huge hit around the world in the early 1990s.
So what does it take to shrug off adversity and persevere in following your business dream – even when reality seems to be telling you to give it up?
Two of the most important traits are patience and persistence. Every success takes months, even years, of hard work and trial and error. A fully-fledged idea for an instant business hit very rarely pops into an entrepreneur’s brain fully formed. Instead, the road to victory is littered with cock-ups and catastrophes.
The real key is a stubborn ability to accept your mistakes and move forward. That means not going gaga when mishaps occur, but instead dealing with them and, most importantly, turning them to your advantage.
Seeing the bright side of every setback isn’t the naïve optimism of Dr Pangloss, the mentor of Voltaire’s Candide, who refuses to be downhearted because of his fervent belief that, in this best of all possible worlds, everything is for the best.
It’s important you take the correct lessons from your errors, though. The comic Peter Cook said: “I have learned from my mistakes and I am sure I can repeat them exactly.” In any start-up it’s essential that you learn how to avoid making the same mistakes in future.
Richard Moross, the founder and CEO of Moo.com, one of the world’s largest online business card printers, gave a revealing answer when we asked what mistakes he’d made. He said: “I’ve made plenty, but it’s difficult to view them as mistakes when they contributed to the success of today’s business in some shape or form.”
Moross then made another really interesting comment. He added: “I’m not that bothered by the idea of failure per se. I’m a planner at heart, so for me it’s not about what’s happening today, it’s about what might happen tomorrow. If what’s happening now isn’t what I’d have wanted it to be, that doesn’t really matter because I’m always looking forward to what’s around the corner. You have to keep moving forwards.”
Every entrepreneur should take heed of Sir Winston Churchill’s definition of success. He said: “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” Because if you fail enough times, sooner or later, you’re going to know exactly what it takes to be successful.