Does success always starts with failure?

May 20, 2011

Success may not always start with failure, but the wise man expects a cameo appearance at some point in the movie.  Choppy seas are inevitable in any venture involving risks – and entrepreneurship certainly qualifies – so any adaptgood entrepreneur-investor partnership relies on a shared understanding of how to best navigate them.

We’ve previously written that the trauma of failure is a great teacher, that innovation can emerge in unexpected ways in its wake, and that when it does occur one must strive to fail the right way.

All three of these points are brought together in the newly published Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure, by Tim Harford – columnist for The Financial Times and the author of “The Undercover Economist.” Harford offers three principles for failing productively:

Variation: be willing to fail… alot.

Survivability: fail on a small enough scale to survive.

Selection: seek feedback, spot failures and fix them early, avoid the instinctive reaction of denial.

This review by Geoff Riley describes how the author recounts the “small cluster of heroes” from which he developed the three principles:

All were people prepared to challenge the conventional wisdom, driven to engage in a never-ending mission to seek out and try new ideas, and most of all, to respond flexibly to a changing environment by spending time on the ground, with a worms-eye view rather than seeking to impose strategies from above. Their successes were not overnight or fleeting, and in some cases undoubtedly changed the course of history for many thousands of people. They were committed to trial and error and willing to recognize failures and set-backs as part of a search to find something better.

UPDATE: (5/24/11):  Tim Harford guest blogs at Freakonomics, where Steven Dubner introduces the book as “examin(ing) the incremental, adaptive ways by which success is achieved across a number of fields.”


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