When my brother was in his early twenties, he took a risk and bought a struggling business. He borrowed a large amount of money – partly from the Bank of Mum and Dad, and set off on his entrepreneurial journey. Roughly two years later the company was bankrupt and he had a massive amount of debt hanging over him. He failed, catastrophically so, and yet that didn’t seem to put him off.
Call it insanity, call it arrogance, call it grit, for some reason my brother thought he could make it contrary to prior evidence. The view from my parent’s end was drastically different. Not only had my brother spent a huge amount of their money on this fruitless venture, he had failed in the trying. And where do I sit?
Well, it’s a funny thing. Before joining the current multinational I work for, I would have sat firmly on my Mum and Dad’s side of the fence. However, I think I’ve changed my mind since and the reason for this is cultural self-awareness. Speaking to people from other backgrounds who can step away from British culture has given me some interesting insights and opened my mind to other ways of thinking.
I recently chatted to a colleague who told me that in the United States, you’re not considered an entrepreneur until you’ve failed a few times. Whether this is an actual reality or merely a charming anecdote, it does allude to different cultural attitudes to my own. I don’t think we Brits have the same “cowboy” approach, in fact I think we’re very reticent to even entertain the idea of failure to the extent that we seem to take a perverted enjoyment from it. If by some extremely unfortunate freak accident you end up reading The Sun newspaper, you’ll see that it’s littered with “failure porn” – a star’s fall from grace.
In the first movie of the latest Star Trak reboot, Spock gets very annoyed with James T. Kirk because he beats a simulation where the point is to fail. Learning to fail is part of growing up; in the same category as realising you’re not the best at anything and that your parents are just two people trying to muddle through parenthood. I’ve come across a few examples where failure has been seen as an ideal learning opportunity but it’s not pursued as a learning tool in business.
We need to stop being so precious about winning and relish the chance to learn from our mistakes. Losing is not the enemy, giving up, or dwelling on it for too long is what we should fear! So fairplay to you bro, good’on’ya for sticking at it! Mum and Dad if you’re reading this, I’m sorry, please don’t stop sending me Christmas money.