Entrepreneurial Success & Failure: Which is more complex?

In order to understand the grey area between success and failure, let’s take a look at the definition of both words as defined by Merriam-Webster:

Success: degree or measure of succeeding; favorable or desired outcome; the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence.

Oddly enough, failure is defined in more ways than success!

Failure: omission of occurrence or performance; a state of inability to perform a normal function; an abrupt cessation of normal functioning; a fracturing or giving way under stress; lack of success; a falling short; one that has failed.

Entrepreneurial Success & Failure

IGI Global, publisher of Timely Knowledge lists entrepreneurial success as the individual entrepreneur’s distinct understanding and appraisal of the accomplishment of standards that are personally crucial to him/her.

Again, there is much more information about failure than success. In addition, the information about entrepreneurial failure is also more complex than anything I have found about entrepreneurial success.

For example: Entrepreneurial Failure: A Synthesis and Conceptual Framework of its Effects is an article I found at Wiley Online Library. This information shared in this article was far more complex than anything I’ve research on entrepreneurs and success. Why is that? Why is failure looked at more as a science and theory than success?

As noted above, the definition of entrepreneurial success is quite simple – one sentence touching on several key points. Is success that simple? Of course not. Yet, that’s how entrepreneurial success is typically defined. If more information is desired, it’s typically shared through a very small number of entrepreneurs by way of a book – biography or autobiography.

The abstract of the article referenced above is as follows:

Failure is not the outcome which entrepreneurs strive for when they start their businesses. However, thousands of entrepreneurs fail each year, experiencing painful and damaging consequences in their professional and private lives. Current knowledge on entrepreneurial failure is quite fragmentary. Our study aims at integrating knowledge on the effects of entrepreneurial failure. Departing from a systematic literature review, we develop a multilevel framework of entrepreneurial failure effects which categories: (1) their manifestations over time; (2) the directness of the link to the failure event; (3) the degree of impact on the failed entrepreneur; and (4) the level of long-term outcomes generated. Our findings reveal a broad scope of multilevel impacts of entrepreneurial failure.

The article goes on to discuss entrepreneurial failure as, a phenomenon, and part of the entrepreneurship process which is an individual undertaking . It defines entrepreneurial failure as ‘a psycho-economic phenomenon characterized by the entry of an organization into a spiral of underperformance (e.g., insolvency) and thus the entrepreneur’s entry into a psychological state of disappointment’ caused by ‘not achieving entrepreneur’s expectations (e.g., insufficient current return, no growth expectation, poor efficiency, innovation that is too slow, etc.) in contrast to personal reasons’. Furthermore, entrepreneurial failure is considered as a process covering three main phases: causes, event, and effects.

My mind was spinning as I read article after article explaining, not defining the many, many reasons behind entrepreneurial failure. It had me questioning, why would anyone want to be an entrepreneur?

It’s 4:30 AM and the internal alarm clock triggers the entrepreneur’s eyes to pop wide open as if an explosion had been heard close by. Without nary a thought of needing another hour or two of sleep, or even a thought about what day it is, the day begins for the entrepreneur.

You see, an entrepreneur’s mind immediately kicks into ‘business mode’ with a flurry of thoughts and questions firing away like short, rapid bursts, one right after the other without pause. This continues through whatever is a typical morning routine. It is a productive time as many ideas find their way through right up until the mental fog dissipates.

Seemingly, as the second or third cup of coffee is finished, self-motivation kicks in with a reveille-type ‘let’s do this’ announcement. Albeit it’s one that no one else hears. Often, this charge ahead moment feels like leading the charge into battle, only to sprint a few yards onto the battlefield when the reality of the moment kicks in – there’s no one else around, there’s no one but the entrepreneur on the battlefield, despite the sound of guns and cannons close by. It’s a frightening moment. It’s a lonely moment. And it’s a frustrating moment.

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What’s frustrating is despite unparalleled commitment and extreme effort, challenges remain. Correction – the SAME challenges remain. The same ones that are addressed day after day, without change. The same ones that are written weekly at the top of the priority list as if a motivation point, yet often viewed as to-do items that never seems to get done.

Ironic is the fact that these challenges are preventing success. Other things are addressed during the day, week, and month. After all, there are deliverables to produce. There are calls scheduled. There are meetings. Conferences. There are so many things to do!!! It’s exhausting. A question comes to mind. The same question asked repeatedly over the past year, but more often of late as frustration seems to be mounting. Why go on?

I’ve asked that question of myself so many times that it clearly is a broken record. Yet, one that continues to play. I know all too well that a successful entrepreneur is one who knows that ideas are not enough. It takes action to make the ideas work. To make them a reality. And especially when failure is not an option.

Sure, I could easily go down the path here of spewing out quote after quote – persist until you succeed, winners never quit, etc. But the real motivation is thinking about one’s own WHY. Yes, that’s motivation but it’s not the answer. It brings to mind that being busy is not necessarily being productive. Being productive means achieving results and in order to do so, definitive action must be taken.

Of course, I know all too well that there are the orders of the day – deliverables, meetings, calls, etc. but what I’ve done of late, is to shift from 80% focusing on order of the day to 80% focusing on the top priorities. In order to do so, it also meant prioritizing the priority items!

My tipping point was when I realized that my ‘priorities’ had turned into a long laundry list. Many were not even priorities, just items that required attention. I’ve found myself making lists for the sake of making lists. It made me feel I was being productive and getting things done. Yes, I was sorely mistaken. I thought about the infamous quote, “Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again – but Expecting Different Results.”

Believing that I’m not insane, I knew I had to shift gears and refocus my efforts, my attention to the things I know will make a difference. Funny thing… They are the ones I’m most passionate about, the ones that will generate significant revenue, and ones that will make a significant difference in the lives of others – all the stakeholders in my life including my family, my partner, his family, our clients, their families, and even people we’ve yet to meet.

So, why go on? Well, that’s easy to answer. It’s because an entrepreneur cannot stop being an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur does not go off into the sunset. An entrepreneur does not quit.

An entrepreneur doesn’t decide to take the easy path. But still, an entrepreneur MUST realize, understand, and focus on true priorities – the ones that will make a difference, and especially to those that depend upon us!

I’ve realized, entrepreneurship is a balancing act between success and failure with failure being an integral component of entrepreneurial success. To me, that’s the best way to define entrepreneurial success AND entrepreneurial failure. After all, it is a process that builds upon both success, and yes, failure.

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Have a great day. Make it happen. Make it count!