“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” — Albert Einstein. We can rephrase it is as “Anyone who has never failed has never tried anything new”. But then why are we afraid of failures?
Being an Indian, I am not stating this as a fact, rather as an observation with a 28 year old eye. Last seven years in the Indian corporate world, where I was hired for innovation, have forced me to conclude that “Yes, We (Indians) are taught to succeed and not to fail”. Most of the times, failure is seen as a result of inefficient, unfocused and UNWANTED attempts made by an inefficient, unfocused and not so smart individual.
It takes me back to the year 1995, my 10th grade science practical exam. We were asked to make projects based on scientific theories. The most popular choice was to go for a wind mill or a solar heater. Our seniors did it and their seniors too and probably their seniors too, everybody knew about these so called popular yet regular projects. However, my friend Rajkumar decided to break the so called success mantra by doing something new, a water clock. He made a water clock where one drop of water was hitting a second’s hand every second (He did all the calculations and I guess it worked). But he really had a tough time in convincing his teachers of its worth (and his hard work). He was discouraged at every stage and the weapon used to dissuade him was again the after effects of failure. It’s not a story with one Rajkumar but almost every Rajkumar.
Here are my viewpoints on why (most of) the Indians are not very comfortable with failures:
- We hardly failed: From our childhood we hardly failed as we were not allowed to fail. We were given a tested formula before every experiment which minimized the chances of failure to almost zero. We were almost always taught the “how to” with “what to”. As we grow the word failure takes a different meaning altogether as we never saw that as a part of our normal day to day life.
- Failure makes YOU a failure: It was always inculcated that failure makes you a failure. Things are changing but still the respect for the failure is missing. I really liked Sir Ken Robinson talk on “Do schools kill creativity?“. I wonder if our education system is creating the fear of failure inside.
- Less freedom for innovation at higher education level: I had been a student of 2 great universities but we hardly had the freedom to try something new. Creating something new was an option that was left for not so important (out of course) subjects. I personally feel that at PG level or professional courses there should be classes on the necessity of attempts and failures. The more freedom you have for innovation the more you will try and least will you fear failures.
- We never enjoyed the luxury offered by failures: Every failure comes with a cost – huge or low. Most of the time we can not enjoy the luxury offered by failure due to the cost and the time involved with every venture. Failure is a lot of fun when you are not putting your throat at risk. How many of us have modified our two wheelers for fun? We owned them for use (I am happy that things are changing very fast though)
- At corporate world we are appreciated for success (only):
However, in my present organization we take special care to ensure that real attempts are appreciated and awards are not limited to successful attempts only. In fact, I wrote a mail to all the employees asking them to fail more often.
Things are changing very fast. We (Indians) are trying our best to make failure less fearful both at personal and corporate levels. The term failure is being redefined by the latest high-end mergers and acquisitions by risk taking Indian companies. It may be considered as some indications of the new era.
Abraham Lincoln was a success man
- Failed in business at age 21.
- Was defeated in a legislative race at age 22.
- Failed again in business at age 24.
- Overcame the death of his sweetheart at age 26.
- Had a nervous breakdown at age 27.
- Lost a congressional race at age 34.
- Lost a congressional race at age 36.
- Lost a senatorial race at age 45.
- Failed in an effort to become vice-president at age 47.
- Lost a senatorial race at age 47.
- Was elected PRESIDENT of the US at age 52!
After I wrote “Questions for your employer (Hiring Manager)“, many people have asked me various questions like what about salary, career and so on. I will cover some more important questions that you should ask your prospective employee.
NOTE: Don’t ask these questions during your first rounds. Wait till you impress the company. Remember that these questions will always be appreciated. It is your right to interview the company as the company interviews you. It’s a mutual relationship. I suspect people who don’t scrutinize a company prior to joining it. I remember a time when after few rounds in a company I had several meetings with their founders, management and staffs, then I decided not to join them for the time being.
(Does your company understands you?)
Try hard to join Good companies
There are only few good companies (where you enjoy work and create great things), try hard to join them. Good companies always want good people. Make a good relationship with them even before joining them. It’s not that tough to win competition with good teammates. “Hiring is the key” – Says Jack Welch of GE. Next section will help you answer, whether to join a company or not. It’s not a perfect formula but worked 80% of the time for me.
- What is their mission statement? – This reflects a lot about how the company is organized. Ideally people from the top management to the peon should know the mission statement and work accordingly . Many companies work on different things but everything is done without a proper mission statement. I have seen some small companies with great mission statements, it was so clear that you could sense their direction with just one single sentence. For a bigger company, the name brand name covers up the mission statement. For a bigger company, ask your prospective team about its mission. and then Match it with your profile/choice.
- Who manages the company? – Different departments should be managed by different people. If the company is a new startup, assume it to be a little messy but they should have a plan to delegate powers to departments. Ask this, “Who manages your HR policies?”, “How are the appraisals done?”, “Who decides the salary increment?”, “If someone is performing extremely well for the company, then ask the concerned person whether the company treats them same way as they treat other employees or do they have a special provision for them?”. You will be surprised to know that many big companies are struggling with these questions. A good company will always try to answer these questions as clearly as possible.
- How do you earn money? Who invests in the company? See if they are open about it. If company is not making good money then don’t expect goodies for yourself. Not earning at present is not a big issue but the outline of business plan can be shared (to an impressive level).
Questions about the company?
- Five day week: MY SUGGESTION is NOT TO JOIN any company that works 6 day a week. 6 days a week is almost impossible for hard working people. Sometimes people do work 7 days a week if needed but the company that wants its employees to work more than 5 days a week on a regular basis is certainly not a people focused company. One doesn’t need to work XXX hours to complete a task but they surely need to work YYY fresh hours to make it successful, where YYY < XXX for sure. One day off a week keeps employees fresh. The company that doesn’t understand this doesn’t deserve good heads, lend them your hands and legs, brains doesn’t work for 6 days. I seriously mean it.
- How many leaves? Compare it with the industry standards. This is also a big factor that you should consider.
- Salary break up and Incentives Ask for a clear break up. Promises made is of no use, get it written in black and white. “You will get so and so when so and so happens”, better get it written.
- Increments This needs a clear guidelines. I know many who say, “I will get an increment only if my boss feels so“. This needs to change, one should get one deserves. If companies don’t have such policies they certainly needs to come up with one. Also see if promotions are performance based.
Ideal companies rarely exists, so one needs to get some of the mix and keep working towards a company that respects its people. See some of the stories that speaks about its culture (basically some viewpoints 🙂 )