x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Learning from failure is the way to find success

Felicity Glover on why learning your lessons from failure can lead to success – at least in the Middle East

Illustration by Gary Clement for The National
Illustration by Gary Clement for The National

Failure and success. Nobody wants to fail and everybody wants to succeed, at least that's what many of us want.

But what do they mean to you? And how would you define the two?

More to the point, is failure the worst-case scenario?

Some would say that success is everything and failure is just that: an inability to succeed.

But what if I threw some names into the mix before you make your final call?

Henry Ford. Walt Disney. Bill Gates, just to name a few.

What do they have in common? They clocked up their own start-up failures before going on to become successful, if not legendary, businessmen.

What would have happened if they didn't go back to the drawing board and start over? Would the Ford Motor Company, for instance, be where it is today? We'll never know the answer to that because they didn't allow failure to get in the way of their dreams.

Our attitude towards success and failure apparently has a lot to do with where we come from and our cultural ideals - at least according to a new report and survey by Barclays Wealth. And it seems that in the Middle East, failure is good.

The report, If at First You Don't Succeed ... Mapping Global Attitudes to Adversity, explores cultural attitudes towards failure and shows "how a better understanding of behaviour and psychology can help entrepreneurial and financial investors make the right decisions at a time of uncertainty".

It says a lot that 91 per cent of Middle East high-net-worth individuals believe that viewing failure positively is essential for an economy to grow, compared with 74 per cent globally.

"Compared to those in western economies, respondents from the Mena [Middle East North Africa] region tend to have a more positive view of setbacks, show great persistence and better see the benefits of overcoming adversity," it says.

But here's what's interesting: 74 per cent of respondents in Saudi Arabia agree that if a business is failing, an entrepreneur should persist rather than cut their losses.

And when it comes to respecting people who persist in the face of failure, the Middle East comes out on top again, with 94 per cent of respondents agreeing with the statement. This compares with 83 per cent in Asia, 81 per cent in the United States and 75 per cent in Europe.

Still in Europe, 44 per cent of those surveyed believe that if you work hard enough, anyone can learn how to become a successful entrepreneur, compared with 49 per cent in the US, 56 per cent in Asia and a remarkable 83 per cent in the Middle East.

But what price the cost of failure when it comes to launching a start-up venture; a business that you've put everything in to?

It can be a crippling loss, not just financially, but also psychologically. And finding the strength to start again can be harder the second time around.

But in Qatar, 73 per cent of those surveyed said they have learnt a great deal from their past setbacks, while 85 per cent feel they have bounced back quickly from them.

"More respondents in the Middle East [81 per cent] than any other region believe that past failure in entrepreneurial endeavours increases the chance that a new business will succeed," the reports says.

What's their secret to success?

It has to be noted here that the 2,000 global respondents to the survey have more than US$1.5 million (Dh5.51m) in total net worth, while another 200 are worth more than $15m.

With that amount of money behind you, I think it's easier to say that a flailing start-up can be turned around - at least financially.

But at the end of the day, it's about the lessons you've learnt and your ability to overcome adversity.

Just ask Mr Gates. "It's fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure," he once said.

Mr Gates, the founder of Microsoft and the world's second-richest man with a fortune of $61 billion, speaks from experience. His first company, Traf-o-Data, which he set up when he was a teenager to (oddly) collate information on traffic and then sell it to local authorities, posted a net loss of $3,500 and collapsed after failing to find any customers.

But the lessons Mr Gates learnt from his failed start-up took him on to bigger and better things just a few years later.

Not that I'm a fan of Microsoft-run PCs, but you've got to give the man his dues - and every other entrepreneur who has found success through learning from failure.