Alex Osterwalder gave a talk at the BIF 10 conference last week. We're posting this talk on our blog even though it doesn't directly relate to business tools. It's about how we deal with failure in our lives. Alex frames the talk provocatively as "Why I Want my Kids to Fail" and shows how failures in his own life turned out to be positive for his development and career.
Everyone has lived it but no one wants to speak about it. We’re ashamed by our past failures and have trained our memory to only retain moments of success. We look up to thought leaders and are inspired by their flawless track record. But should we be? Should we really be inspired by those who deep inside are scared of admitting they’ve sucked at something before becoming masters at it? Should we look up to those who fear to venture into something new because they might fail and look incompetent?
The topic of failure is less of a taboo today though. We’ve embraced the startup mantra of “failing cheap and failing quickly” and have seen communities sharing stories about failures to tap into collective learning at events such as the Failcon conferences. But we are not trained to embrace failure. We’re just barely working on letting go of that fear of looking inept in everyone else's eyes, and we still don’t know how to teach our kids to fail.
Alex mentions he failed to get in McKinsey & Company, a leading consulting firm. He also failed his first year of business school and instead learned about questioning how people think in his political sciences program. Alex learned he didn’t want to be an accountant when he ventured in a nonprofit job in Thailand. These failures shaped what he is today: a passionate thought leader building tools and introducing revolutionary methodologies in the traditional corporate world.
In spite of the success of Business Model Generation, his visual and practical bestseller that stood out in the traditional book market and made more than a million sales, Alex and his co-authors are now taking the risk of failing as they’re trying something completely unseen in the business world: making people use digital tools. With Strategyzer's upcoming book, Value Proposition Design, Alex and his co-authors want business executives to use strategy & innovation processes through computer-aided design, just like architects and engineers. Value Proposition Design will be the first book to offer online learning, PDFs, exercises, and templates on Strategyzer.com.
Are you scared that you might just blow things up if you try, and be judged by others around you? Well, you might actually fail and indeed not look very smart. You might try once, twice, and still fail. But as you learn to accept failure and learn about your own case, you’ll adapt and find something that works, something that you’re passionate about. Striving to find that passion, learning from any kind of experience and taming our fear of failure is how we should teach our kids to fail today.