Americans call it experience, not failure


Americans don’t use the word failure – they call it experience.

Now wouldn’t that be a good change of thinking to develop in New Zealand. There’s a suspicion we’re changing in our thinking with regards to ‘failure’, and Don Dodge gives a few more thoughts on the subject (see here).

In his blog about thoughts on business and technology, Dodge says setting impossible goals and shooting for them gives a whole new mindset.

“Think about the trajectory required to hit a target at 1,000 feet versus a target at 100 feet,” he says. “That difference in trajectory, and thinking, will create a much better result than aiming for 100 feet. That is a fundamental difference in philosophy that drives us towards success. Failure is not viewed as shameful, and will not prevent you from achieving future success.”

Dodge seems to know what he’s talking about, having seen over 300 start-ups at recent American ‘do’s’.
He posits; Start-ups? We need more finish-ups.

To give an example of the scale that the USA brings to the game, here are some of its stats.

Venture capital firms invested US$21.8 billion in 3,277 companies in 2010. Angel investors ponyed up another US$16-$20 billion in over 50,000 early stage start-ups. There are over 500,000 new companies started every year in America.

In the first half of 2010, there were 31 start up investments by angel investors in New Zealand.

Dodge makes the point that 30% of new companies fail in the first year, and 50% fail within five years.

Second time entrepreneurs have a higher success rate than first timers (my emphasis).

He continues, saying failure is experience.

Which in a nutshell says, let’s not be too hard on ourselves Kiwis.

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About sticknz

sticK is by Peter Kerr, a writer for hire. I have a broad science and technology background and interest, with an original degree in agricultural science. My writing speciality is making the complex understandable. I am available for outside consultancy work, and for general discussions of converting a good idea into something positive
This entry was posted in Angel investment, Entrepreneur, high tech, Innovation, SciBlogs, start-up, technology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Americans call it experience, not failure

  1. Pingback: Wellington.scoop.co.nz » Americans call it experience, not failure

  2. Pingback: Americans call it experience, not failure | sticK – science … | Today Headlines

  3. MainlyMe says:

    Evoking Leonard Cohen, “Hallelujah!!!”.

    As one active in innovation for the fat end of 35 years, including 5 years based Stateside, the greatest Kiwi cultural impediment I see to successful innovation is fear of failure. I have long lived my professional life with the motto “the only failure is the one that you repeat” that is to say that something that did not succeed offers a great learning experience; if you exactly repeat the experience it shows that nothing was learned.

    However, I fear that this fear-of-failure attribute may be an expression of a more fundamental trait of the Kiwi condition, that being the endemic “blame and punish” culture. My sense (sorry no science to reference) is that Kiwis are more eager to react “who do we blame and punish” than Americans (and other innovative cultures) who are more likely to focus on “how do we fix it, and stop recurrences” when confronted with an unexpected negative outcome (Kiwi parlance is “failure”).

    Little wonder then that people here are reluctant to confess that something didn’t work out when one knows that the next phase of the response is pointed fingers looking for a place to rest!

    The Ameican attitude to failure … sorry “experience” is not new. One early example is Milton Hershey, the founder of America’s largest chocolate producer, whose “overnight success” in the town that bears his name followed failed confectionary ventures in Philadelphia, New York and Denver.

    As my dear old Mum instilled in me “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again!” to which I would add “don’t look for excuses, seek reasons”.

  4. David Collie says:

    Encouraging comment and similar to a quote I think Edison made. He said about failed experiments that they weren’t failures just steps on the way to success and to finding the correct answer. Entreprenuers do learn from their mistakes but do need incubation or mentors to increase success rate. Advice and assistance in capital raising is a big need.

    • sticknz says:

      You may’ve followed up Don Dodge’s blog. He has another paragraph about how Mentorship Matters. Having blindly followed my own course of thinking at times, without bouncing it off others, I appreciate the value that another pair of eyes and ears, and its brain, can be of such huge assistance.

  5. MainlyMe says:

    Peter,
    “How do we encourage a new Kiwi mentality then”

    Gee Peter, I’m glad you’re not asking the hard question! I’m not sure that the extent of my experiences provide me with sufficient basis to provide an authoritative response, except to say that as with any ingrained cultural issue, there are no quick fixes. Cultural fixes, even within the limited reach of corporate culture, take years to effect, and in societies take generations.

    Maybe the most immediate impact would derive from some of NZ’s major corporations invoking and LIVING a policy – “we celebrate success but we don’t punish failures that arise from sensibly pushing boundaries”. From the sideline I suspect that there are already some that operate in that space (Air NZ and F&P Healthcare come quickly to mind). Perhaps that could be reinforced by some of NZ’s successful entrepreneurs ‘fessing to earlier “mishaps” that shaped their successes. I feel sure that somewhere in the successful innovator mix of Hamilton Jet, Gallaghers, Navman etc there must be such examples of early failure that could be used to counter the “to fail is to die” common wisdom. The only broadcast Kiwi “success after failure” story that I am aware of is Michael Hill (jeweller) arising from the ashes of his fire-destroyed home, but that’s not a very helpful example (unless it was caused by his own mistake).

    After all no-one can sensibly subscribe to a philosophy “If at first you don’t succeed … Give up!”.

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