If there’s one thing that stands out about Gen Y it’s that we fear the permanent. In fact, the permanent or sedentary nature of anything proves incredibly frightening to the millennial generation. While startup culture deals in buzzwords and “failure or fail-fast” registering on the most noteworthy of biz terms, we instead see the word ‘failure’ as something irreversible or perpetual, it’s very meaning being “to be unsuccessful in accomplishing a purpose” or “cease to exist or to function, come to an end” rather than a positive learning experience inevitably leading to success.
Why? Because our generation is described as having an “inflated sense of self” with an “aversion to personal risk, considering our self-image as highly special and worthy of protection,” as described by University of New Hampshire management professor Paul Harvey. The existence of failure impedes on our pristine sense of self and lack of ability to move forward. Simultaneously, the concept of permanency has reached extinction with the emergence of globalisation and technology.
To me, adopting failure as a fashionable mythology is akin to drinking the kool aid. Speaking to young Founders and entrepreneurs alike, the general consensus leads me to this: no one actually wants to fail, only idiots are ok with failure. When was the last time you ‘chose’ to fail or fail-forward? Failure means wasted time, wasted money, wasted resources, and when that ‘waste’ is divided by the ever ‘sought after’ experience, I’m not sure the end result every really outweighs the cost. Of course failure means learning, but if someone were to develop an algorithm that pre-empted mistakes or obstacles we’d all be on board. No one is going to give you a medal for failing, nor are they giving you $500k in investment. What I do understand is that everyone fucks up, sometimes a lot – sometimes a little, but we fuck up, take from it what we will and move on. In this sense, words are key.
In an article for forbes, Rob Asghar author of Leadership Is Hell: stated that, “Pretending to embrace failure when you don’t is disingenuous and potentially dangerous.” Perhaps here, Gen Y is far more on point when it comes to the weight of words and their actual meaning. “Fucking up” appears to be dressed in impermanency. A term whose consequences are quickly rectified, not one we throw our hands up in the air and say “Yay, I fucked up, someone hand me a lollipop”. It is a construct that compels us to action over disappointment. Plus it feels fucking great to say.
ie. “Oh man, I’ve really fucked this up, I better go fix it”.
The very nature of startup calls for constantly venturing into the unknown. Essentially, we are creating things, products, services, businesses not yet executed before. You are Yuri Gagarin heading into space. So naturally, when we are doing something for the first time, you are bound to ‘fuck up’ at some point.
Talking to Australian entrepreneur and founder of thinkactchange.org, Avis Mulhall on failure, she says it’s all about not being cliche about business processes and terms, and not getting stuck in the ‘failure phase’.
“When attempting to do anything for the first time, you are destined to fuck up. I fuck up so much these days, I actually call them ‘clusterfucks’ – just a series of bad events on steroids that didn’t go the direction I see for the particular business I’m working on. But you just keep moving, because in startup pace, you don’t have time to stop and celebrate something dumb you’ve done and write a fucking poem about it. Just understand that that was not the right decision and try again with founded knowledge of what not to do next time. Then hopefully you can pass that same information on to someone else so we don’t all become royal fuckups”.
But really in the end, whether we’re talking about failure, fucking up or clusterfucks, all anyone wants to do is succeed. As Rob Asghar concludes, “Forget the cute mantras. No one should ever set out to fail. The key, really, shouldn’t be to embrace failure, but to embrace resilience and the ability to bounce back. And the goal shouldn’t be to glorify mistakes and errors and catastrophes, but to cultivate the ability to adapt and learn from them.”