For most of us, failure is something to be avoided. After all, who really likes attempting to accomplish something and not succeeding?
But there's an inconvenient truth: failure is underrated. In many cases, it's a prerequisite for success and those who embrace it and learn from it have a strategic advantage over those who won't and can't.
I started thinking about this subject more recently after a discussion with a friend of mine. For the past decade, he has made a small fortune as a domainer. He owns a handful of really valuable domains that display little more than landing pages with advertising. While I don't diminish the value of the hard work he's put in optimizing those landing pages and choosing the right ad services, it's generally a simple business. One that until recently made enough to support a very comfortable lifestyle.
Over the past year, however, my friend has experienced what a lot of domainers have: decreasing PPC revenues. While he's still earning enough to pay the bills, the writing on the wall is clear to me at least: he can't rely on the same business model forever. Thinking that some of his domains are perfect for lead generation, I suggested that he take a few and dive into the lead gen business. His response: "I don't know the first thing about lead generation. It won't work out". Translation: I'll fail.
Now I have no doubt that my friend might fail short-term. But I have no doubt that he's smart enough to learn something new and succeed. Despite my pleas and offers to help, I have been unable to convince him to try something new that might save his business.
After reflecting on this experience, I came to realize that this isn't entirely surprising. After all, as a society failure is highly-stigmatized and those who fail spectacularly, both professionally and personally, are often made the subject of the spotlight. In the business and tech communities in particular, 'fail' has become a prominent fixture. Just do a Twitter search. Now we're all guilty of indulging in highlighting a #fail or two (or three), but some fails are more worthy of scrutiny than others and in general, I am worried that #fail culture may be going too far.
The experience with my friend is not the first example I've seen first-hand of a good entrepreneur subconsciously deterred from trying something new or sharing their dreams, ideas and inventions for fear of ridicule if they fail. And the fear of failure isn't only something that entrepreneurs have to grapple with. We tell big corporations all the time that they're dinosaurs who will die if they don't evolve. Yet when they enter uncharted waters (like social media) and stumble while trying to find their sea legs, we often scorn them.
In short, the balance between using failure to provide much-needed lessons and using it to tear down individuals who are guilty only of trying to do something may be tipping far too much in favor of the latter. If I'm right, this will have a negative impact on small businesses and big businesses alike. From reducing the amount of constructive criticism in the marketplace of ideas to discouraging healthy risk-taking, I can't help but think we need more celebration of failure.
So I'll ask a question: is #fail culture getting out of hand? Are we setting the stage for a more hostile environment for creative thinkers and business leaders? Or am I being too sensitive?
Photo credit: griffithchris via Flickr.