Resilience – Key to Coping with Failure

By: Karl R. LaPan, President & CEO, The NIIC

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 50% of all new businesses survive 5 years or more, and about one-third survive 10-years or more. U.S. S.B.A. cites 34% of all businesses started will close in the first two years of operation. So why would anyone in their right mind start a company? No business owner starts a venture with the intention of failing. Entrepreneurs are all in. Failure is not an option, or so they think. But sometimes failure is inevitable. When it happens, it can be a chance to pause and reflect on what you can do differently next time and increase your odds of a successful second, third or fourth venture.

Successful leaders understand failure is part of the game. Here are several practical ways to use failure to your advantage and to identify it as Professor John Danner, author of Failure: The Other “F” Word calls it, “a strategic resource.”

Channel your emotions into something positive

You have two choices at this juncture: wallow around in self-pity or be proactive and start fleshing out your next big idea. Find a way to transfer that nervous energy into motivation and don’t waste precious time and emotional capital. Smart and savvy entrepreneurs are adaptive, iterative and reflective.

Don’t forget about passion.

You’re far less likely to succeed if you pursue a concept that you don’t love. After all, you must sell yourself first on the product or service before you can get customers on board. Fun is under-rated. If you had little or no connection to your original concept, then maybe it’s time to explore something that creates a visceral response this time around. Smart and savvy entrepreneurs are passionate, intellectually curious and determined.

Resilience and resolve – part of the Entrepreneurial DNA.

Entrepreneurs have resilience in their DNA. Take it from Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, who said: “You don’t learn to walk by following the rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.”

Resilience means staying in the game, even when it’s most inconvenient. Sometimes you have to remove all emotion from the situation and look at it from an outsider’s perspective. For example, you might consider where things didn’t happen the way you anticipated they would – feedback from customers? production costs too high for a likely sale price of the product? What commercialization de-risking needed to happen but didn’t? Once you have this intelligence you can turn around and create something bigger and better next time around. Smart and savvy entrepreneurs see around the corner, connect disparate dots and possess incredible emotional intelligence.

Your Homework: Ask your boss or your board, out of every 10 things you try, how many do you have to get right to be judged successful? This will help set the boundaries of how innovative you can be. The higher the number, the lower failure is an option. This can be a fruitful conversation with your boss or board of what it takes to move the needle in your products or business model and to calibrate expectations.

Remember, failure is a natural part of life—and business. The sooner we lean into failure, the better off each of us will be.


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