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Do founders learn more from success than failure?

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One of the themes of entrepreneurship discussions these days is that we should fail faster and harder. But I was talking to a very smart young entrepreneur the other day, and he stunned me by flatly stating that people learn way more from success than failure. He went on to say that failure just teaches you what NOT to do, but it doesn't give you a pattern for what TO do. I'm still processing it, but wanted to throw the statement out to the 106 community.

I've been told that people who've never played for a championship team don't know from their own experiences how to be a champion.

But like you, I don't believe it. Having been on a championship team before, I don't believe I have more knowledge than before that day.

The only thing that has changed is that I now know confidently, without doubt, that I can succeed.

Everyone else: There are excellent threads in the best Convos about FAIL that are worth reading.

In two sentences: We learn more from success than failure. But fear of failure is the biggest threat to entrepreneurship.

In terms of pure learning, success is more valuable but some failure is necessary. We need best practices and confidence, which come from success. We need course correction, which comes from failure.

A lot of people read the literature surrounding "deliberate practice" (like Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers") and think all they need to do is practice for 10,000hrs to master something. As I've mentioned on my blog a number of times, that's an incorrect reading of the studies. You need to systematically challenge yourself, improve, evaluate and challenge yourself again... repeat for 10,000hrs. That entails a level of failure but a controlled amount.

I don't think anyone would recommend getting in three car crashes to learn to drive but nor are we shocked when someone says they had a fender bender in their youth. If you aren't failing you aren't learning but I think the Silicon Valley mantras extolling failure have less to do with *actual failure* and more to do with banishing the very common FEAR OF FAILING.

Failing is essential to learning and most people are absolutely terrified of it -- especially with high stakes and even moreso when it's public. Entrepreneurs are a unique breed. The vast majority of people fail at something and quit immediately. They don't try to start a company, in public, spending millions of dollars, fail spectacularly and then eagerly do it all over again -- repeatedly. This is utterly alien (not to mention borderline pathological) to the majority of people inhabiting this planet.

It's like when you read about Samurai and the Bushido code and they're constantly going on about death. Sounds crazy at first but when you think about it in the big picture it makes perfect sense: A samurai (or any soldier) can't be afraid of death. It's a career-ender. You have to be comfortable with it, almost embracing it, almost wishing for it. And entrepreneurs talk the EXACT same way about failure. I hear some entrepreneurs speak about how important it is to repeatedly fail fast, their eyes filled with zeal, and it sounds like a terrorist extolling the virtues of martyrdom. Embrace what you fear most to conquer it.

We learn more from success than failure. But fear of failure is the biggest threat to entrepreneurship.

(More on deliberate practice here. More on motivation here. More on flow here.)

Well said, Eric.

In Mystery Men, The Sphinx says, "When you doubt your powers, you give power to your doubts."

Most real life success involves a lot of failure along the way. If you look at almost any of the well known rocket ship stories that drive entrepreneurs, even if the overall picture is of fairy tale success there are fails below the surface. Almost everybody has fallen out with co-founders, made bad hires, had investors fire founders, badly burned or been badly burned by suppliers or launched launched products that failed by the time they get to be of any real size.

Thinking of the news this week, Apple is a massive success, but they've had plenty of fail on the way.

Success that you worked hard for teaches you plenty. At least in part because you failed too.

Success that came too easily can certainly make you cocky, leaving you convinced you have a Midas touch and setting you up for a big fall the next time the market dips.

Fortunately, most people are not unlucky enough to experience massive, easy success.

@ifindkarma When I succeed I call it luck. More likely a post mortem after a fail. Fail = learn.

But I believe true creativity is forged through suffering; which is not -- but often associated with -- failure.

"What every artist knows, is that even the failed pieces are essential."

"Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold." ~ Helen Keller

The safe ship never leaves the harbor....

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