Failure is Inevitable

Apple will be bankrupt. Eventually. It may happen a hundred years from now, but it will happen. Right about the time FMRIs can beam images and sound directly into our brains and we realize that carrying around beautifully designed machines of aluminum and glass is so… cumbersome.

Like death and taxes, failure is the inevitable outcome of any business. No one is immune. Even Steve Job’s role model, Edwin Land, built a business (Polaroid) that eventually failed.

So when starting a business, the question isn’t will this business succeed or fail?. The better question is when will this business fail?. Will it fail next year or a hundred years from now? Will you even be alive when it fails?

Accepting that your business will fail, let’s focus instead on the best time for a business to fail. The absolutely best time is before it is even born. When it is still ideas on the drawing board. Before others are betting their mortgages and future on your business succeeding. If you can take your business idea to failure by yourself you’ve done a great job, one you should be proud of.

My friend and mentor Robert was working on an idea to revolutionize the news paper business. He was talking to everyone, from newspaper reporters to publishers. They were getting excited. He had a founding team lined up. He even went to the trouble of printing up business cards. Then one day he stopped talking about it. I asked him why.

“I discovered that it would never work,” he said. “Every time I thought I had found a problem that needed solving, a little research and I could find a tool that solves it. So I killed the idea.” He wasn’t bitter, frustrated or upset. Quite the opposite. He was pleased that he was able to discover the flaw in the business do early. He even talked about it as a success.

Everyday I come to the office knowing my business will fail. I ask myself every Monday “will this business fail next week? Next month?” If I can answer no then we continue on.

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