One common topic of discussion we have had this fall at the Aalto Entrepreneurship Societyevents is how fear of failure is one of the biggest obstacles stopping people from starting their own businesses. Some are concerned about their financial security and what would happen if the business fails, but on the other hand the steps that can be taken to minimize the financial impact of failure are rather simple. For example; don’t quit your day job until you have some idea about the feasibility of your business, and make sure you have enough savings to last 6-12 months with no other source of income.
I dare say, that the financial side is not the real issue here. It is the culture, especially here in Finland. It is the fear of how others will see you if your business fails; the social pressure. We do not have a culture that celebrates those who try and fail – frankly, in Finland the ones who try and succeed are probably hated even more. Jealousy runs deep in our veins.
It is easy for the government to say “we need more entrepreneurs”, but much harder to change peoples attitudes towards those who take the leap to pursue their dreams. So it is not very hard to see why we have so few truly ambitious startups.
Why is it then such a taboo to fail? I think the problem can be traced back to the way we have been educated. Ever since the first grade we have been taught that there are only two types of answers; the right and the wrong. And if you don’t have the right answers you will be scowled at by your teacher and by your parents, you will not be successful, you will not get into a good university and you will end up having an unappreciated job.
From a very young age you are conditioned to provide the answers you think the other party (your teacher, boss, or parent) wants to hear instead of just having a go at it, and trying to come up with alternative options. Your brain becomes more of an information silo where everything is organized and filed to provide off-the-shelf answers. In the process, however, you also start to lose your creativity, and the ability to form new connections between different ideas and information.
The reason I brought up entrepreneurship at the start of this post is, that the capability for creative thinking is where the money is made. The vast majority of people only have generic answers that every single one of their peers have also learned at school or by following what others are doing. Successful entrepreneurs, by nature, have a different view on the world. They are the ones who have the creative ability to combine apparently unrelated things into something wonderful.
Every year worldwide more and more people are graduating with university degrees, so how are you going to differentiate yourself from them? Why should a company hire you when so many others have exactly the same education? Is it a wonder, that the most valued employees today are those who can come up with creative solutions and make them happen?
In one of my all-time favorite TED talks, Ken Robinson is making a case about how difficult it is to teach children in the modern world when it is changing at such a rapid pace. How can you educate someone who starts school now and will enter working life in 15-20 years? How do you know how the world is in 20 years when you can’t even tell what it looks like in 5 years? And yet you are supposed to provide education that prepares for this unpredictable future.
With so much uncertainty it is even more important to nurture creativity, and to get rid of this mentality of right and wrong answers. We simply do not know yet what the future challenges will be, so the best tool to face those challenges is the extraordinary human capacity for creative thinking.
Failing at something should be celebrated instead of frowned upon, and the mindset that we need is not how to avoid failures, but how to learn from them. Anyone who has ever studied or tinkered with something on their own knows that the best way to learn is to actually do it, make a mistake, find out what went wrong and learn how to avoid it the next time. Unfortunately, the current form of education is not cultivating this approach.
The brain is like a muscle, creating new neural pathways the more you use it and the more you apply what you know in different ways. Intelligence is not a static quality you’re born with, but something you can nurture. You won’t, however, be giving your brain the exercise it needs by simply memorizing information that someone else has prepared for you. Don’t be so concerned about being right or wrong, but instead have the courage to take a shot and be creative!
“An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.” -Niels Bohr, Nobel Prize winning physicist