Darwin’s Law of Failure

This post is in response to Jonathan Kochis’s article, The Disturbing Culture of Failure. Kochis lays out the how a culture that encourages failure negatively impacts business—and he’s right—but let me add my perspective on why I think this culture is in place and why it’s necessary. Let’s call it Darwin’s Law of Failure.

 It seems to me that the attitude of accepting (or worse, expecting) failure from the outset is a step toward making it happen.  Failure is something that should be dealt with as it happens and is decidedly reactionary.

The “fail fast, fail cheaply” mantra exists mostly from the startup generation that we’re living in. Most current startups are formed around terrible ideas and ran by either nerds with no idea how to run a company or Type A personalities with no idea how to run a company. This combination of bad ideas and no execution breeds failure. Failure to ship, failure to attract users/customers, failing to capture investor attention, and failing in the wrong direction.

Failure is something that has become a part of the startup culture and in-turn, embraced. In reality, failing is inevitable but this culture encourages pushing harder and faster in spite of fearing failure, even when pushing harder and faster makes failure more likely. There’s two reasons this happens: competition for investor attention, which these companies feed off of, is more often grabbed by companies who build products faster and cheaper, and secondly, that failure needs to happen because the markets can’t bear more than a few startups actually taking off.

VCs control the startup world and startups exist in a distorted reverence of them, their attention, and money. Without VCs, the startup’s cute little website will shut down so they are driven to the capitalists’ promise of wealth and glory in exchange for their half-baked idea to be built faster and cheaper no matter the cost to the founders integrity, product, or emotions. To mask the pain that comes from pouring everything into an idea that won’t go anywhere, the startup culture has embraced failure and shaped an acceptance caused by its abundance.

With so many awful startups, Darwin’s Law of Failure needs to come into play to maintain a balanced market. Without the startups failing, good talent who are blinded by bad ideas can be locked down long-term and companies would stay afloat longer, sucking up more capital. Just as in nature, startup death is necessary. With an overabundance of startups, the culture of failure pushes the weak startups over the cliff in a culling of ideas.

Smart people know that planning, designing, accounting for unknowns, and having foresight into your direction takes more time up-front and can mean not building as soon but leads to more successful implementations of products, features, and relationships.

To foster the entrepreneurial culture that I believe is the backbone of a solid economy we should really be trying more things more often.  None of these things, however, should be treated with such insignificance that failure is a suitable outcome.

Approaching things with the significance that they deserve comes from believing that what you do is a long-term cultivation of relationships, learning, and ideas and if your approach is that of a disposable startup where you “fail fast, fail often” then you’ll take the bruises of a disposable startup. Don’t take the easy way out where you accept failure but build an economy of value by “trying often and trying harder”.

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