The key to entrepreneurial success is failure

As you may be able to tell from the top of this blog I am a fan of Winston Churchill. He is a man who illustrates the need for perseverance more than any other and look what he achieved in his life time.

In fact, over his whole life Churchill had to cope with setbacks, from his dismal academic record, to be thrown, more than once, into the political wilderness.

He invariably bounced back. As he remarked, “Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm”.

One of my favourite examples of a tough headed entrepreneur is James Dyson and an example to us all about the key to success in entrepreneurship – Perseverance through the failures learning all the way.

In order to win big you will need to fail again and again – I am a serial entrepreneur myself and I can honestly say that I am constantly pushing hard, often things don’t work out how I expect and usually their are times I feel it’s just not worth it but I can’t give up – the harder it gets – the closer I am to success – so I double my efforts and ‘dig in’ until I get through, round or over the challenges.

One thing I love about the US is they really understand entrepreneurship and the fact you will fail more than you will succeed – but that success will outshine all the failures. They actively like entrepreneurs that have screwed up and learned from the experience. Not so in the UK, there’s still a stigma with failing and that’s a real issue with our culture.

I think the UK is getting better at understanding entrepreneurs and the ‘name of the game’ and below is a great article that just shows how true the axiom is “The key to entrepreneurial success is failure”. Or put another way Perseverance pays.

On his chapter on “Soft Resilience” Andrew Davidson interviews James Dyson who battled for years to win. Here’s what he says, read and learn:

So I posit my theory. The key to success is failure.  Not other people’s failure, but how you respond to your own inevitable failure.  Everyone gets knocked back.  No-one rises smoothly to the top without hindrance.

The ones who succeed are those who say, right, let’s give it another go, who cares what others think.  I believe in what I am doing, I will never give up.

Dyson nods.  “You’re right,” he says.  “Success is made of 99% failure, you galvanise yourself and you keep going, as a full optimist.”  But it is not just perseverance that counts, he goes on, it is hope.  “I think hope is the most important element in success”.

Of course, this mixture doesn’t always make you the most personable character in the world.  You have to believe when others don’t.  You have to pursue when others give up.  You have to push aside when others get in your way.  You have to bounce back when the rest of us would probably say, OK, enough, I’m staying on the canvas.

But look where it has got Dyson.  The inventor who for more than a decade was told his idea for a bagless vacuum cleaner was as worthless as carpet dust now sits on a £700m fortune, sees his picture on the cover of The Sunday Times Rich List, and finds himself feted by the great and the good and the greedy.  All because he never gave up, and in the end broke all the rules by designing, engineering, manufacturing and marketing his own invention.  The great British public and others are now happy to pay many hundreds of pounds for one of his finely sculpted machines and even bitter rivals like Hoover have adopted similar technology.  And is he content?  Mostly, but let’s just say that at times he also seems a bit ambivalent about it all. 

Contradiction number one, he says, is that he hasn’t gone into this to make money and become huge… “But I am in a funny position, in that I am making money and I am getting big.  I am very proud of that, but I wasn’t interested in making money.  The product is the most important thing”.

He smiles, his manner courteous and charming in a rather old-fashioned aloof sort of way.  That is something I wasn’t expecting; the sheer upper-crustness of James Dyson.  Somehow, after all those stories of him beavering away in his potting shed workshops, I was anticipating something grimier, and something more cerebral.  In fact, he is the least likely boffin inventor you could meet.  Tall, lithe, exquisitely dressed in dark turle-neck, blue cotton trousers and black suede loafers, he looks and talks like  big-boned Nigel Havers, only that redoubtable jaw-line giving a hint on the stubbornness underneath.  Stubborn, his wife Deidre tells me, is one of the key Dyson adjectives.  And, of course, optimistic.  “He has always had an absolute belief in what he is doing”, she says.       

It is that belief which kept him going during the hard times. 

This excellent quote was taken from Smart Luck & the seven other qualities of great entrepreneurs by Andrew Davidson (ISBN 0-273-65265)  

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2 responses to “The key to entrepreneurial success is failure”

  1. Juan M. Climent Avatar

    Great article!. I agree with it, but let me say that another key would be not to focus ourselves in appearing in the Sunday Times list as a final aim – just to make money, I mean -, but in growing and improving our products. As a result, this might lead us to be in those lists, even if we are number 1.000..


  2. Russell Avatar

    Hey, great article, it gives hope, inspiration and boost to wannabe entrepreneur’s like me. You say you are a serial entrepreneur, and i have no doubt that you are, i was wondering whether you can help me find investors for my business ideas. Currently i am studying Business Management at university, but have many business ideas that are in my head and i believe that they will work. I just dont know where to begin, if you could maybe give me some tips, i’d appreciate it very much. once again great article and thanks for taking time out to read my comment.


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