Do We Embrace Failure Enough?

Do we embrace failure enough in our daily lives, in academia, in industry? The answer is a resounding ‘No’. It is not deemed as a subject worthy of debate. It is the reason why you never hear people talk much about a project that failed commercially. It is the reason why you have candidates carefully crafting their résumés to mask all failure.
Surely, we are a society obsessed with ‘success’. At least on paper. While it could be argued that this is not a trait unique to Indians, I get a feeling we tend to do it more than others do. While there are many problems that arise out of this all-pervasive tendency, I intend to highlight just one aspect in the following lines.

The one thing that you will often hear from fledgling startups to technology majors alike is the fact that it is rather difficult to hire good talent, especially good developers and designers. This has resulted in a competition to hire the best talent and companies are vying with each other to lure the best. It often takes months to fill a key position.

For startups, it can be extremely hard. It is not a problem of the lack of ‘qualified’ candidates for any given position. A job opening at any technology firm in India will have hundreds or even thousands of applicants. It is a problem of plenty. Moreover, with all résumés looking homogenous, it is a time consuming exercise to separate the wheat from the chaff. Our aversion to failure has ensured that applicants have mastered how to game the system and appear awfully talented and successful in their résumés.

I think it is time we recognize failure as a likely outcome of an ambitious project and encourage healthy risk-taking. The problem starts right from childhood. Parents often force their children to shun risk and opt for a safe choice when it comes to choosing a field of study or a university. In our universities, students are often encouraged to hedge their bets and opt for an easier project in lieu of an ambitious one. People are encouraged to opt for a conventional or a steady job upon graduation. Even those who are keen to work for a startup are advised to work for a mature or reputed startup and so on. Risk-taking is not encouraged at any stage.

The emphasis is on securing a future and in the bargain, many people are conditioned to take up structured, monotonous jobs with well-defined roles and a clear growth path. Of course, there is nothing wrong with people joining the workforce in the hope of a stable career. The problem arises when you want to hire people who can work in an unstructured environment, take on ambitious tasks and calculated risks and not worry too much about the possibility of a failure. This is where Silicon Valley, Israel and other hot beds of innovation have a huge edge over us. They embrace failure as much as they celebrate success. In fact, many VCs and technology companies prefer to work with people who have dealt with a failure and learned from it.

As I end this piece, I see more questions than answers and I am curious to know what others feel about this topic. Please leave your comments and thoughts below.

(The piece in no way suggests that there are no smart, talented folk with an entrepreneurial bent. The startups they have founded or they work for are indeed fortunate to have them. It only intends to suggest that they are very few in number and they are what they are despite the problems listed above.)

[Guest article contributed by Shashank P S. The author can be reached on twitter: @shashank_ps]

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