Exploring Failure – a response
This summer, we asked you to Explore Failure, publishing the first of our Explore Papers on social entrepreneurs and failure. We wanted to encourage an honest and open debate to really understand what failing means to social entrepreneurs.
If you’re interested in sharing your ideas on social entrepreneurs and experiencing failure join the Twitter chat we’re co-hosting with Roxanne Persaud, a researcher in failure – Thursday 2 Novemember 2017, 4pm-5pm. To take part use #ExploreFailure and tag @UnLtd and @FailureWise into your tweets.
Moses Sangobiyi is founder of The Successful Failure; a platform aimed at challenging society’s attitude towards failure. He set it up after experiencing his own share of failure. In this response he and team member Bosun Ogunrinu-Peters offer their thoughts on the Explore Failure paper and give their social venture’s insight on the topic.
THE THORNY ISSUE OF FAILURE: WHAT FAILURE IS AND IS NOT
The paper raised that there are many reasons as to why social ventures stop running and whilst many of the points are justifiable, we felt that a crucial reason wasn’t addressed; feasibility.
When starting, you should test out how feasible your social venture is. Our approach is to put the enterprise through the most challenging scenarios early on. This gives you a clearer understanding of the challenges which may arise and ultimately lets you know if it is worth investing more resources into the enterprise. For example, we know that remaining sustainable is a huge challenge for most social ventures and have opted to put most our efforts into forming relationships with clients. This allows us to test whether there is a space in the market for us instead of depending on grants and funding pots.
For many entrepreneurs, their venture is an extension of themselves. If you’re going to spend a large amount of your time dedicated to your mission; you need to ensure that your needs are met (financially & emotionally). Therefore, we struggle to agree with mission drift being seen as “selling out” or “failing”. This stance is too unforgiving. Being creative with your approach will sometimes mean finding a balance between social impact & financial need. If you realise you are drifting, adjust your sails and get back on course.
EMBRACING FAILURE, DESPITE THE PAIN
The paper explored why social entrepreneurs found it difficult to address failure. We felt that this section is made up of excuses as to why different social entrepreneurs can’t embrace failure. For this reason, we found it hard to agree with most of the points made.
Starting a business is a risk in itself, therefore as a social entrepreneur, you should have already come to terms with the possibility of failure and how you plan on dealing with it. In addition to this, we feel that true personal growth comes from stepping out of your comfort zone and being able to reflect on lessons picked up along the way.
A common misconception is that failure should be “easy” to deal with. This is not the case. However, we are able to put systems in place to make it more bearable.
This is why we agree with the paper’s ideas on the need for support to help social entrepreneurs learn from failure. You need trusting relationships that you can rely on to give you honest and critical feedback.
WHY IS IT DIFFICULT TO TALK ABOUT FAILURE
Talking about your failures is bound to be difficult. You are letting down your guard and opening yourself up to scrutiny.
However, there are two sides to this. On the one hand, displaying your business’s human side allows supporters to see that you are honest not only about your achievements, but your shortcomings too. On the other hand, admitting failure runs the risk of potential backers questioning the viability of your social venture and maybe even you as a social entrepreneur.
In our opinion, we believe that being honest will ultimately pay off. Relationships which survive are being based on honesty and transparency.
CONCLUSIONS: MOVING FORWARD ON FAILURE
The report gives a great insight into the minds of other social entrepreneurs and their approach to failure within their enterprises. As mentioned, “Not all failures are created equal”. This is a great round up of the discussion and shows that context is everything. For those who come out and evangelise the benefits of failure, there needs to be an honest account of the whole process, emphasis on the initial feelings and tools used to deal with the experience. This is what The Successful Failure is all about!
Exploring: Social entrepreneurs and failure
Read the Explore paper here.