Word From the Top

Here’s an excerpt from a book I’m reading that you should pay close attention to:

“This brief company history may leave the impression that our experience has been one of ever-improving results, with one success after another, each building on the one before. Nothing could be further from the truth. Progress, whether in business, an economy, or science, comes through experimentation and failure. Given that a market economy is an experimental discovery process, business failures are inevitable and any attempt to eliminate them only insures overall failure. The key is to recognize when we are experimenting and limit the bet accordingly.”

Now let me tell you why you should think long and hard about the above words: They were written by a man who has built his business into the largest and most profitable privately held company in America. Koch Industries, which most people have never even heard of, has annual revenues of $90 billion – greater than those of Microsoft and Bank of America!

I suppose I was one of those people who assumed that a giant such as Koch Industries had experienced nothing but success, with each success “building on the one before.” After all, how many failures can you possibly have on your way to building a company with $90 billion in revenues?

Answer: Plenty. In his book The Science of Success, Charles Kochdescribes one misstep after another that he and his team have made over the past 40 years, mistakes that cost his company tens of millions of dollars. But mistakes and losses are part and parcel of the free-market, entrepreneurial model upon which Koch Industries has been built.

This entrepreneurial model requires Koch Industries to go into each new venture as an experiment. If the experiment seems to be working, the company increases its bet as it goes along. If it isn’t working, it cuts its losses and moves on.

Translation: Failure is not a bad thing. Failure is a good thing, so long as it doesn’t become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Failure is, in fact, the Supreme Teacher, and action is the matriculation fee that allows you to enroll in the Supreme Teacher’s class.

Michael Masterson calls this the principle of accelerated failure. “To develop any complex skill,” he says, “you must be willing to make mistakes and endure failures. The faster you can make those mistakes and suffer those failures, the quicker you will master the skill.”

He goes on to say that you should be “happy and even eager to try and fail until you finally succeed.”

That reminds me of something basketball great Michael Jordan once said: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”

Most people harbor such a fear of failure that they can’t bring themselves to supply the action needed to participate in the class. There can be many reasons for this fear, and one that I believe plays a more prominent role than most people might suspect is the stigma attached to failure.Society tends to treat failure with disdain, and most people fear being frowned upon by the straight-and-narrow types who make up the bulk of the populace.

I doubt that one in a hundred people believes that “business failures are inevitable and any attempt to eliminate them only insures overall failure.” But these are not the words of a Harvard Business School professor. They were written by a 40-year veteran of the Entrepreneurial Wars who sits at the top of the food chain.

Charles Koch is not telling us that we might fail. He’s telling us that we must fail. And that if we try to eliminate failure, we are guaranteed to experience overall failure – as in long-term failure. In other words, the only way to totally eliminate failure is to do nothing, which, paradoxically, guarantees a failed life.

The next time you feel a fear of failure coming over you, remember the words of Charles Koch and don’t allow the potential stigma of failure to intimidate you. When Charles Koch talks, wise people listen. I mean, how wrong can a guy worth $14 billion be?

[Ed. Note: To learn how to survive and prosper during the turbulent years ahead, check out Robert Ringer’s powerful audio series Succeeding in a World of Chaos.]

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