Failure may be the Best Option

Success Or Failure Directions On A Signpost


Having a son who is a junior in high school means that college visits are on the family schedule. A few weeks ago, we toured a college where the Dean of Students told us something that really stuck with me. Since they are a private college, they have a requirement to have at least a 70% placement rate in all of their majors. He went on to tell us that it isn’t a struggle to obtain this but it is a struggle to get the graduates to apply. There are several reasons for this but he stated that one big reason is that the students are afraid to fail; they are afraid they will not get the job so they just don’t apply. At first, this shocked me, but then I started thinking about it – we are bringing our kids up in a world where everyone is a winner (are we doing them a disservice??).

When I was growing up, there were winners and losers; it wasn’t always fun but it was reality. We learned at young age if we wanted an award, we had to work hard and do our best work to get it. I didn’t even get my first trophy until I was over 30 years old (when everyone on the team got one too). Now we give everyone a trophy – my youngest son even got a trophy his first year of playing t-ball (along with everyone on the team) from his coach. The problem with making everyone a winner is that kids never learn resilience and the hard work that it actually takes to win. Don’t get me wrong, some kids do learn this at a young age and it isn’t always pretty. Being a scout leader for many years, I have seen my share of kids losing at the Pinewood Derby. There are few winners and many losers (and unfortunately many competitive parents who help their kids win). And of course, in sports (especially individual sports), there are always winners and losers. It is how we teach them to deal with losing that makes the difference.

Think of all the successful entrepreneurs, artists and sports people who have had multiple failures and still succeeded. If they hadn’t had the resiliency to keep trying, we would not even know their names or have benefited from their achievements. If you Google “Successful entrepreneurs (or people) that have failed,” you will get thousands of articles. This Business Insider article provides some insight of some of the people we are most familiar with . Among them, a few of my favorites include Oprah (fired from her first television job), Walt Disney (who was told he lacked imagination) and Sir James Dyson (who went through 5,126 prototypes before creating the Dyson vacuum).  Can you imagine not having Oprah, Disneyland/World and Dyson vacuums?? Their resilience shows us that we can learn from failure and in fact, may have been the best option.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal published an article on the decline of young entrepreneurs in the U.S. the article doesn’t give specifics on the reasons why, but eludes that financial challenges and a low tolerance for risk may be among the main reasons. Entrepreneurs rarely come up with the perfect idea or product, the first time out so they are forced to learn from their failures. If they have a low tolerance for risk whether it is financial or other and if young people are afraid to fail, then we may be facing a decrease in young entrepreneurs for quite some time. But if we can start teaching entrepreneurship at a young age and help them to learn that failure is okay and may actually be the best option for learning we may be able save this endangered species.

5 Myths of why teachers may not be teaching entrepreneurship

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to talk to local 8th graders at a career day event. They asked a lot of great questions and were very engaged – I was very impressed with the school as they have a special program that helps kids who want to go to college. Many of the kids said it was their favorite class – it helps them with study habits, note taking and other things that will improve their chances of success. After the presentation, I spoke to the career director and asked if they taught entrepreneurship. She brought up some concerns about entrepreneurship which disturbed me and thus serve as the basis for this blog post.

Myth #1: Entrepreneurs don’t need an education.

-Nothing could be farther from the truth – in order to run a business; you not only need the knowledge in your area of expertise (which should definitely be at a very advanced level), you need math (for budgeting, projections, daily operations), accounting (minimum of a basic level), communication (both oral and written), and marketing knowledge including internet and social media marketing. You will need to know business operations, customer service and where to find the help you need at any given time. You also need to know your own strengths and weaknesses and how solve problems creatively. Are there successful entrepreneurs without a college education – of course there are but they are in the minority. A college degree also gives you credibility that you have acquired a certain level of knowledge. When you first start out – you will most likely have to bootstrap and run most of the business on your own (until you reach a certain level of sales so that you can pay others) so education is one key that will open doors!

Myth #2: Entrepreneurship doesn’t fit neatly in a box.

-I guess you could say that is true because it actually fits into many boxes. I can’t think of anytime in my life that I have learned more than when I was running a business. Since running a business includes knowledge from so many disciplines, you can incorporate it into almost any academic subject. In science, you definitely have to use creative problem solving. To figure out sales, costs and net income you utilize mathematics, to create a marketing message you need to read and write and to get your message across to customers you utilize both oral and written communication. Sure, it will take a little ingenuity to incorporate entrepreneurial activities into an existing curriculum (that is what the Biz Ops game does) and debrief around it – but won’t it be worth the effort when the kids are engaged and motivated to learn!

Myth #3: I’m not experienced as an Entrepreneur so how can I teach it?

-The good thing about entrepreneurs is that they are a group that loves to share their knowledge. Most entrepreneurs go into business to solve a problem and help others so they are more than willing to help out in the classroom (you just have to ask). There are also many non-profit organizations such the Small Business Development Center, SCORE, and Women Business Centers that are available to help with providing guest speakers on starting a business or business planning. For curriculum, Junior Achievement has developed curriculum that fits into different grades and there are many books and games available including More Than a Lemonade Stand and the Biz Ops Game that have already been classroom tested. So even though you may not have business experience, the resources are there to help you provide a unique classroom experience for your students.

Myth #4: Many new businesses fail – I don’t want my students to fail

It is definitely true that the majority of businesses fail within the first 3 years of opening their doors. There are also many reasons for this. One big reason is that many people go into business because they have a passion for something or a talent in something and don’t realize how hard it is to run a business. They don’t get the training they need to succeed in running the business and so it ends in failure.  Another big reason is that don’t test their idea before putting it into action. Just because you think it is a great idea, doesn’t mean people will pay for it.  It must be a big enough problem that people will part with their money before and buy it; so testing is crucial. If we can start teaching our students some of these entrepreneurial lessons at a young age, they will have less chance of failure if they start a business. Also, if we can teach them that failure is something that we can learn from and improve and move forward; our students will be more resilient when they do come across failure in their lives (which is inevitable).

Myth #5 – Becoming an Entrepreneur is only one career option.

        The great thing about teaching entrepreneurship is that they don’t just help kids learn how to run a business, they help them learn about their self, their passions and talents and how to utilize them to help others and create a better world for all of us. Isn’t that really what we all want – is a world of happy adults who contribute to our society in a positive way. Teaching entrepreneurship includes teaching innovation, creativity, collaboration, communication and problem-solving which are all 21st century skills that can be applied to any career path they choose (and employers will definitely appreciate the kids knowing them). The first step of becoming an entrepreneur is learning what your own unique gifts are and how you can make a difference. This increases their confidence and self-esteem and chances of success that may not have had in a traditional classroom environment. I have witnessed many middle-school aged kids come to camp change from a shy introverted kid and transform into a confident young business person communicating their ideas with passion in just one week. Knowing that they have this capability to make a difference using their unique gifts will help them in any career option they choose.