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  • Ranganathan Vellor

Bouncing Back

Far better it is to dare mighty things, To win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, Than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in that great twilight that knows not victory or defeat. Teddy Roosevelt

How easy it is to talk about vision, strategy, courage, passion, determination, talent, temperament and many such attributes that are ingredients to success. But how many are able to fathom the trials and tribulations of an entrepreneur. ​It is an irony of our times that the words ‘entrepreneurship’ and ‘success’ are often used in the same breath—ironical because, the downside associated with start-ups is failure, and failure is more common than success. Successful entrepreneurs themselves estimate that for every success, there are probably five hundred failures. But people talk more about success than failure, for a variety of reasons: there is a stigma attached to failure, people may want to motivate themselves by focusing only on successes, and so on. But one failure does not make a disaster. Failure is the result of one or more mistakes, and affords an opportunity to individuals and organizations to learn from those mistakes. An individual who learns the right lessons is unlikely to repeat them, because he knows what pitfalls to avoid, and he keeps an eye open for them. Entrepreneurship is all about the willingness to take risks—indeed the necessity of taking them-- entering uncharted areas, and making quick decisions often on the basis of insufficient data, because entrepreneurs usually not have the luxury of detailed market research reports and the time to study them at length. Mistakes and errors of judgment are therefore inevitable. In fact, there is a case for arguing that if an entrepreneur or a manager has made no mistakes, it might be because he has taken no risks and made no snap decisions. Any entrepreneur will tell you that start-up life is about coping with ambiguity, constant change and uncertainty. Success leads to profits, but equally, a failed venture leads to losses. Those who are not willing to take the risk of failure should not therefore think of becoming entrepreneurs. Failure is like teens—an awkward and uncomfortable phase in life, but an experience that precedes maturity. There is nothing negative about failure, except when there are repeated failures, in which case it points to a serious problem. But by and large, failure is a positive experience, because it is a character builder. As Goethe said “ A talent can be cultivated in tranquility; a character only in the rushing stream of life.” If, after experiencing failure, an individual is able to look into the mirror and honestly say, “I did the best I could, I left nothing to chance,” there is no cause to be disturbed. A little soul-searching and introspection should normally allow such people to bounce back. What three great American entrepreneurs, whose companies are household names throughout the world, had to say about failure, is very instructive. Bill Gates, for one, is known for hiring people who have made mistakes. His rationale: “It shows that they take risks. The way people deal with things that go wrong is an indicator of how they deal with change.” And the ability to handle change is vital in today’s highly competitive business world, characterized by massive pressure on profit margins and on people tasked with delivering those profits. Henry Ford had this to say: “One who fears failure limits his activities. Failure is only the opportunity more intelligently to begin again.” And this is what Thomas Edison, the founder of GE, said: “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Of course, in any industry, there will always be entrepreneurs and managers who have been successful at every stage of their career. But apart from the fact that they are relatively few in number, isn’t it just possible that the big, successful names of today may have had a time may have been through a phase when despair was a major part of their lives? It is entirely possible that if the word ‘failure’ has never been associated with some entrepreneurs and managers, it may be because they have taken great care to conceal failures that they experienced early on in their lives? No doubt, there are successful bosses (not leaders) who have never known failure, who therefore don’t understand the phenomenon, and also don’t understand managers who might have made a mistake entirely in good faith. Such individuals would do well to ponder Oliver Goldsmith’s thought-provoking observation that “our greatest glory consists not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.”

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