Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Joy of Failure?

Sometimes it feels like life is a series of complicated situations and failures that we must negotiate. In-between the icky bits we savour those beautiful sweet moments that keep us fueled  I am lucky enough to connect on an almost daily basis with inspiring and interesting individuals who fill me up and remind me of what is important in life.

I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit – I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.        -Ernest Hemingway

Over the past few weeks I met some such individuals who own and manage some of the most innovative manufacturing companies in Tasmania. Situated on the North West Coast of Tasmania in Devonport, Penguin, Burnie and the surrounding area, many of them produce and sell to and for local, interstate and international markets. It was fascinating listening to their stories about tenacity, hard work, ideas and people. By the end of the two days there were some common themes running through the conversations. Many of these industrious and clever individuals left school in year 9 or 10 to pursue their dream that often revolved around making, growing or building something. But there is nothing modest about the operations of these producers and manufacturers. In fact, most have businesses with international reach and plans for major growth and redevelopment. Needless to say that the experience of entering their world was fascinating and inspiring.
Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.     - Steve Jobs (1955 – )

The lessons to be learnt from these clever people are many, but the recurring and reassuring themes included:

  • surround yourself with positive people
  • 'you gottawannadoit' – a catch cry from successful entrepreneur Dale Elphinstone
  • you have to keep modifying and improving your product, responding to the market and updating to address competitors.
  • Take the word 'can't' out of your vocabulary
  • Be focused on what you want to do and be passionate and finally the biggie...
  • don't be afraid to fail

WHAT? Failure.
Innovative and idealistic thinkers may tell us that failure is vital for our growth and success, and a normal part of life it really is not something embraced in day to day life. Even before we bring our first school reports home in Grade 1 we have learnt the reward of success and the disappointment that surrounds failure. Let's face it, not only are we generally pretty bad at failing, but what is worse is our response to failure. We denigrate others, ourselves, we sulk, question everything and often go into complete avoidance.

Sport is not something I usually watch. In fact the TV was muted when I noticed the young footballer being interviewed. It was his demeanour that first drew my attention. He was being asked about the recent game and the substantial loss his team had suffered. While he was obviously disappointed it was his response that got me thinking more about how we deal with and respond to failure.

'Someone has to lose', he said when asked about the teams performance. He went on to talk about what they could improve on and take from the loss; what do they do next. It got me thinking about sporting teams and how they approach failure. There were qualities in the footballer that I had seen in the North West entrepreneurs. They reflect on their performance, respond, make some changes, pull up there socks and get on with the next idea or task.

Business owners risk everything by investing their own money into ideas and projects. While they may do their environmental scans and risk analysis, ultimately they must be prepared to respond to failure; through economic downturn, change in trends, competition etc. The ability to ride this failure, to get up and have another go, is incredibly inspiring. It is a quality that is needed in the non profit sector, including the arts. There is a confidence amongst these hard working passionate people that is GOLD and I believe we can learn a great deal from them.

I came away from the North West wondering how we could learn from entrepreneurs and successful business people-especially those who fail. How do we get them in front of producers, managers and arts companies who are looking to get off the reliance on government funding? How do we embrace difference in how we all communicate; ask the 'stupid' questions? And how do we invest in our ideas, take a risk and prepare ourselves when failure hits.

Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.     -Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900), The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1891

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