What role does failure sometimes play in entrepreneurial success? What can an entrepreneur gain from failure?

Expert Answers
kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Thomas Edison famously noted, in reference to the many times he attempted to develop the incandescent light bulb but came up short, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Similarly, the late senator and former Attorney General of the United States Robert F. Kennedy commented that “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”  Edison and Kennedy, as well as the others throughout modern history who strove to excel in life, were making the point that, without failure, success was sometimes impossible to achieve.  The process of trial and error has lied behind most of history’s greatest achievements. It is the rare individual talent who can succeed on the first try without having to have first experienced failure.  Principles of business are no different.  Entrepreneurs, by definition, assume considerable risk in the pursuit of their dreams.  By accepting greater levels of risk, they are gambling on greater rewards should their business pursuits prove successful.  Edison understood that great discoveries or inventions did not come easily; otherwise, everyone would be routinely making such discoveries or succeeding in inventing better mousetraps.  It was only through a protracted period of trial and error that he was able to perfect the invention that revolutionized the way people illuminate their surroundings.  History’s greatest entrepreneurs all knew at the outset that they were launching themselves down uncertain paths, and that financial ruin could result.  That they were willing to accept those risks and persevere was testament to their personal fortitude and determination to achieve their goals.  The most successful entrepreneurs do not penalize their research and develop staffs for failing to prove concepts; they reward their initiative and help to redirect those personnel when warranted.  Only through the willingness to accept failure as part of a learning process can objectives be attained.  Henry Ford, racial attitudes aside, was a brilliant entrepreneur without whose efforts the automotive industry may not have developed into the colossus it eventually did.  As Ford himself stated regarding the willingness to risk failure and accept it as both inevitable and beneficial, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”

kapokkid eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Even business schools tend to value applicants who have tried and failed in a business venture over those who have tried and succeeded.  So failure is valuable not just conceptually but even in reality as well.

A failed venture in business often yields valuable and painful lessons that are very difficult to forget for those who started the enterprise.  Because failure is so instructive, it helps the future businessman or woman to understand exactly what they shouldn't do the second time around.  This knowledge is immensely valuable in later efforts.

So this learning that takes place more effectively in a failure leads to future success in helping entrepreneurs to avoid previous mistakes and to focus on what worked rather than on what didn't.

Wiggin42 | Student

Failure and success are the two sides of the business  Any person be an entrepreneur or  layman could have experienced both failure and success.. Success brings profit in business while failure brings loss. Every entrepreneur knew that business involves risk, and the outcome could be either favorable or unfavorable. Any business could face a setback  due to various factors which are not primarily the entrepreneurs fault. The probability of the outcome could prepare the entrepreneur for the best. Hence forth the understanding of the business cycle and anticipating  the outcome certainly plays a positive role and can help the entrepreneur to face the failure in an encouraging way and even learn from it.

mchandrea | Student

There is a popular quote

"Failure is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something." -Morihei Ueshiba

It cannot be said any more simpler than that. This cannot only be applied with business, but also with life itself. Failure teaches us things success won't. Perseverance drives us to continue despite failures. 

In lieu with your question, I will focus more on the business side. For example, I set up a business with a friend but after a while it was not successful. I lost my money, and I lost my friend. I try it once more and the same thing happens again. Potentially, this could make me depressed and frustrated and I might be scared to open up another business in the future, thinking it would eventually just go down the same way. If one day I find the light, and decide to set up a new business and this time it is successful, I could look back at my failures and  realize how strong I have become. My failures taught me not to give up. It taught me that dark days come and go. And most importantly, failure is always the first step to success.

rachellopez | Student

Failure, not just in business, can teach you a lesson. If you wanted to create the best invention in history but you failed, you can find what you did wrong and try again. Someone involved in business can always learn from their mistake and fix the problem for the better. For example, if a business fails to make a customer happy, they will fix the issue and learn not do make the same mistake with other customers. Failing is the road to success in business.

chrisyhsun | Student

Failure oftentimes gives individuals a lesson or a chance to do something unexpected, both of which can lead to success.

From failure, an entrepreneur learns what can go wrong. Maybe he/she anticipated something incorrectly, was too aggressive/ambitions in terms of business growth, didn't properly handle some of the issues associated with entrepreneurship. Whatever the reasoning is, obviously something went wrong that led to the failure, and the entrepreneur can learn from that mistake. This leads to heightened awareness in future ventures and can help lead to entrepreneurial success.

Additionally, failure gives the entrepreneur a chance to do something new. Undoubtedly the entrepreneur did not anticipate the failure and had plans set out for what he/she would do next in order to further grow the company. With failure, these plans suddenly become irrelevant and though it's a scary place to be, this opens up a world of opportunities for the entrepreneur. He/she can step out of the comfort zone and engage in new experiences that can spark an idea that leads to entrepreneurial success later on.

udonbutterfly | Student

Failure is what someone chooses to make of it, it can either make them or break them. In a lot of cases failure gives many the motivation to keep trying until they succeed because the pain of failure is nothing compare to the feeling of achieving a goal. Many entrepreneur's learn from their failure and it becomes a constant reminder of what is the best decision to make in future decisions as well as build the blocks to success. Life is full of trail and errors.

clyoon | Student

Failure can be interpreted as two things. First, an entrepreneuer can see failure as a discouragement. Once the person fails, he or she can be discouraged by the failure and discontinue their plans of being an entrepreneur. One failure can make them feel like the path is not right for them or that they're just not good at it or that more failures will come. They become scared and discouraged and lose confidence in themselves. They lose some hope in their future.

Others take failure as an encouragement -- an encouragement to work harder, do better, and improve to successfully become a great entrepreneur. Some of these people understand that failures happen but life moves on and better things are yet to come. They understand that sometimes in order to reach success, failure happens to make them stronger. Kelly Clarkson says it too, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

An entrepreneur can always gain from failure. They learn what they could do better and what decisions/actions not to make anymore. They gain knowledge and experience and it helps them mature as an entrepreneur. 

parama9000 | Student

Failure forces us to rethink our startegy, as well as what could have been possibly done wrong. As such, when we go back to the drawing board, we can come up with fresher, better, new ideas that could potentially work. Failure will guide an entrepreneur back on the right track.

Wiggin42 | Student

Every failed attempt in doing something teaches you invaluable lessons on how to do it. For example, when I was learning to play the guitar, every failed chord progression taught me a little more about how quickly I should change fingers, how much I should press on the strings, etc. This sort of stuff only comes through actually trying (and yes, failing!) Likewise, in business, every failed attempt teaches you something about how to do it.