Both innovation and failure are indispensable to what we can call “the Circle of Technology,” which continually destroys, creates, destroys, and creates opportunity, markets, and livelihoods. The Circle of Technology is hardly a new concept. What I call the Age of Innovation and Failure began in the nineteenth century and exploded big time in the first two-thirds of the twentieth. It was called the Industrial Age, and for every innovation created during it, entire classes of products became obsolete. But there was always a cap on the volume of innovation; all truly significant enterprises were capital-intensive. The sheer magnitude of money required to start any major enterprise limited the opportunities available to individual entrepreneurs.
Now jump to the final third of the twentieth century and the emergence of low-cost personal computers. With the desktop, laptop, smartphone, and other personal computing devices and their interconnection via the burgeoning Internet, the door was suddenly thrown open to the individual entrepreneur. In this new Networked Information Age, just about anybody could start a business. Today the bar to entry is so low that we currently see 510,000 startups each and every month in the United States alone.
Most startup entrepreneurs fail. That’s to be expected. But the fact that most who fail don’t try again is completely unnecessary. “You are not beaten until you admit. Hence, don’t,” as Patton said. Failure is a point in a life or career, and neither a single failure nor a single success is likely to last long, let alone forever. If the upside of the new Networked Information Economy is tremendous opportunity, the downside is that the calm and comfortable status quo no longer has a place to hide. Innovation is now the Golden Ticket, and this means that the demand for any given produce or service has a limited shelf life. Today’s iPhone is tomorrow’s 8-track.
We are in the early days of a Failure Revolution. Join it, and you can accept failure as a step toward success. Deny it or try to hide from it and you risk making failure the end of the line—at least for you. Look, the business world is finally catching up to my personal embrace of failure as an opportunity to learn, to improve, and to win.
Adapted from Fran Tarkenton’s book, The Power of Failure: Succeeding in the Age of Innovation.