Learning From Failure by @Rena_Tom

Contributor post by Rena Tom

Photo:y girlhula

This week in San Francisco, a unique conference is happening. It’s called FailCon and it’s a place for entrepreneurs (generally in the tech industry) to learn from failure so they can avoid pitfalls with their own business.

It’s a great idea for a conference, really - nobody can succeed 100% of the time, but sometimes it’s hard to admit to yourself (not to mention out loud) that you tried something that did not work. However, sharing with and hearing from others can actually offer benefits: it can make you feel less alone as well as better prepared for your next project, and that’s really the point: there is always a next time. Let’s look at failure from a creative business owner’s perspective.

How can failure be good? 

If you took a risk and pushed yourself, then failure is a benchmark for your next attempt. You have received feedback which will inform your actions when you try again. Or, it’s possible that the feedback tells you that you shouldn’t be doing something at all. This is valuable too!

Let’s say you are a knitter and you want specially shaped wooden buttons for your work. You don’t have woodworking experience but you try to carve some buttons for yourself. And then, you fail: the results are not up to your standard and you find that you really don’t enjoy carving. However, you conceptualized some new button designs that you can pass to someone else to execute - designs you might not have known were possible if you hadn’t tried to make them yourself.

Failure is also good so you can properly define it - it may not be noticeable immediately. Maybe you make bags and totes and are coming up with a new design - you need to build a working model with pockets, flaps and fasteners in place before you realize that your pattern is off by an inch or pieces overlap in the wrong way.

How can you learn from failure?
  1. Don’t take it personally. This is a hard one but a good entrepreneur knows that many circumstances, both within and without your realm of control, make up every decision. YOU are not a failure, even if an outcome is bad.
  2. Find the win inside the failure. We are not all born optimists but most failures are not *entirely* a loss. Make notes on what worked so you can iterate from that point and try again.
  3. Talk to others who have failed similarly. You are turning it around and meeting other entrepreneurs who are your network and support group. That is actually a huge win!
OK, it’s time to confess: how have you failed lately and what have you learned by doing so?


Rena Tom is a retail strategist for creative business owners. She previously owned Rare Device, a boutique and art gallery with locations in New York and San Francisco that was renowned for its carefully edited collection of design objects, books, housewares and accessories, and for supporting small, innovative designers and artists whose work was not easily found in stores. Rena blogs about personal projects as well as retail trends and small business tips at renatom.net. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and baby boy in an apartment filled with too many laptops, Sprecher root beer, half-finished craft projects and overdue library books.

Jan Halvarson

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