In a recent and rare interview, the billionaire inventor James Dyson revealed the secret to his success. Dyson told the Wall Street Journal that his success is due to: "Perseverance, taking risks and having a willingness to fail." Dyson doesn't shy away from celebrating his failures. He embraces his mistakes. "We fail every day," he says. "Failure is the best medicine--as long as you learn something."
By now the story of Dyson's failures are legendary. Supported by his wife's salary as an art teacher, Dyson spent 15 years and created 5,126 versions of a Dual Cyclone vacuum before making a product that worked. "I don't mind failure," Dyson once said. "I've always thought that schoolchildren should be marked by the number of failures they've had."
Sara Blakely's Dad Taught Her to Celebrate Failure
Spanx Founder Sara Blakely had a father who emulated the James Dyson model of raising successful children. Blakely says her father's greatest gift was teaching his daughter to endure rejection. Every night at dinner Sara's father would ask, "What did you fail at today?" Blakely said her dad would be disappointed if she didn't have anything to say. Failure meant she was trying new things.
In public interviews, Blakely openly tells the stories of failure after failure. She wanted to become lawyer but failed the LSAT...twice. She was turned down for a character job at Disney World. She experienced daily rejection for the seven years she sold fax machines door-to-door. Blakely learned to see setbacks as setups for something bigger and better.
Blakely's father had taught her to reframe failure, a key ingredient of success among today's billionaire entrepreneurs. Failure doesn't scare them, but never trying is unacceptable.
Jeff Bezos' Wears Mistakes Like a Badge of Honor
In a recent New York Times article, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos talks openly about his radical approach to failure. "While other companies dread making colossal mistakes, Mr. Bezos seems just not to care. Losing millions of dollars for some reason doesn't sting. Only success counts. Mr. Bezos is one of the few chief executives who joke about how much money they've lost." According to Bezos, listing all his mistakes would be like "a root canal with no anesthesia."
Yes, it's easier to lose millions when you make billions, but mistakes are part of the origin story for nearly every successful entrepreneur--they bask in the risk and, when they fail, they wear it as a badge of honor.
Earlier this year I was invited to visit several universities in Dubai and the United Arab Emirates. The leaders of the country have made entrepreneurship a big focus to pave the way toward a "post-oil world." While touring and meeting students at the country's top business schools in the city of Sharjah, I asked an instructor what the country's biggest challenge is to creating an entrepreneurial mindset. "That's easy," he said. "Students need to see failure differently. This is a country where 'saving-face' means everything. Nobody wants to be seen as a failure."
One entrepreneurship program I visited in the UAE had major resources--state of the art buildings and classrooms, top-notch instructors, and funding from the ruling families. Many of the students I met were brilliant. They could speak four languages. They were the best of the best the country had to offer. Yet, the instructors told me that if these young students avoid risks because they're afraid of failing, all the resources and training in the world won't help them.
Overcome Your Brain's Natural Wiring
The problem is that failure is uncomfortable. Neuroscientists and psychologists say failing makes us uneasy because we're wired to care about what other people think of us.
In the book, Social, UCLA psychology professor, Matthew Lieberman, says our neural circuits evolved to experience threats to our social standing in much the same way as we experience physical pain. "Our brains are built to practice thinking about the social world and our place in it," he writes. In other words, we're all wired to save face. The secret to being a successful entrepreneur is to override our social wiring.
Re-framing mistakes, rejections and failures as a necessary part of the entrepreneur's journey will give you the courage to take the risks necessary to build an innovative product, service or company.