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Idealog—in the ideas business

The value of failure

Embrace the inner weed, and always grow back.

jenene freer idealog column entrepreneurshipMy fear of failure is so bad that a few years back I developed a fairly passionate dislike of the word ‘entrepreneur’. I think, for me, there was an association with imminent failure. I felt like it was suggested that failure was almost a rite of passage for any start-up, a guaranteed result even.

Is it just me, or is that pretty hard to swallow? At the end of the day, we bust our butts; we put our homes, incomes and reputations on the line. To have it so easily discarded or relegated to the rubbish bin of wannabe business ideas seems rather flippant. And flippant is not how I approach setting up a business.

Granted, over the years I’ve learnt to slow down a bit and spend a bit more time turning over the worst case scenario in my mind more rigorously before running with the idea at speed.

But nonetheless, once a decision to proceed has been made, it’s not treated in any kind of ‘light’ fashion. It becomes my living, breathing, be-all and end-all vision and makes up a big part of who I am at that point. While I realise that seems all pretty full-on and intense, I don’t think I’m alone in that.

Which is why failure is so hard to swallow. Writing off a business is akin to writing a part of yourself off. We ‘entrepreneurs’ have a shocking inability to let go – we don’t know where the line is and we’re hard- wired to go above and beyond the reasonable call of duty (or sanity, for that matter).

Failure, by definition, means ‘lack of success’ and following that thread, Google suggests success means an ‘accomplishment of an aim or purpose’. But I do have the capacity to embrace a change of plan. In fact, I’d argue the best chief executives are the ones who can adapt quickly to changing market conditions. So I don’t see it that as ‘failure’ in the traditional sense. Applied in real world terms, I would say failure is therefore subjective and based on your own definition of success.

At the risk of sidetracking us into a philosophical or semantical debate, I think it comes down to the kind of person you are.

When journalists ask me what has been my greatest failure, I’m sure I could technically list a raft of things that have not met their aim or purpose (or originally intended ones); from marriages, to business plans, marketing executions and/or hiring of certain personnel.

But the truth of the matter is that those moments in time (though each represent a colossal amount of stress) subsequently turned into positives that lead to a better outlook or outcome.

None of them left me sitting there, years later saying, “I wish that hadn’t happened”.

Instead, I tend to tell the interviewer the phrase I use to help pick myself up out of the doldrums and start to move through the process that leads to a better outcome. That simply starts with looking at my
note-to-self, which reads, “History tells me that it all works out in the end”. It always does. I hold pity parties for only very limited periods of time. I then acknowledge what has happened and set about working out how to improve the situation.

Most of all, I embrace my inner weed – I always grow back. It’s almost impossible to kill me off. You can knock me down, but I will get back up again. It’s a philosophy I’m pretty proud to live by.

Jenene Crossan is the founder of nzgirl.co.nz, and mastermind of flossie.com.

Originally published in Idealog #41, page 71

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