The mystery of success and the articulation of failure

Yesterday a comment was made about why I dont interview successful founding teams instead of focusing on why founding teams split. Actually I did. I spoke at length with Sachin from Flipkart a few weeks ago as I have done several times with Amit Gupta of InMobi and Phani of Redbus and Vivek of Interview street.

Successful people are loathe to describe their success, often talking about “luck” and most often calling themselves “not yet successful”.

Those that failed, however, at anything are often able to point to 1-3 things that they believe were the reasons they did not take off.

I think its relatively easy to assume that 100 things need to go right to be successful, whereas only a few things (or in some cases 1 thing) needs to go right to be a failure.

That directly contradicts my core hypothesis that in any given startup its never one thing that causes failure but a series of things that are not executed well – back to Mark Suster’s comment about lines not dots.

I also think most people analyze failure a lot more since it hurts. That’s a contradiction as well. I  would think most people would not like to think about things that are not “fond memories”. Turns out we remember bad things better because they affect our memory systems more. There’s research that suggests this to be true.

Still that does not explain why people cant articulate success as well as failure. Or am I just asking the wrong questions of the wrong people?


7 thoughts on “The mystery of success and the articulation of failure”

  1. Super post Mukund. I learn from you. Keep em coming….

    People can’t articulate success cause they don’t know what success really is. The ‘pursuit’ is what’s fun isn’t it. 🙂

  2. Mukund, I think it’s all about what you are using your braincycles for.

    At failure (and I mean the final failure of a startup. Even successful startups see small failures everyday), all the braincycles that the entrepreneur has are being used up in understanding why they failed.

    In success, on the other hand, all the braincycles are being spent on the next goal. The entrepreneur will have far more clarity about what they want to do next & hence what challenges they face rather than how they got to the current success in the first place.

    Not a great situation, though. I think clarity about both failure and success is as important because that is giving us models to avoid or replicate in the future.

  3. Success begets Success. But failure cannot beget failure (at least not with the same brand name!). A company can grow and have multiple successes(raise funding, launch new products, new markets, increase market share etc), but failure(here assumed to be shutting the operation down) happens once and thats it. Maybe the successful ones are living very much in the present, preparing for more successes, instead of analysing the past and ‘wasting time’. The ones who fail meet a dead end, and the entrepreneurs mind has the space and time to go into the analysis of the failure. I think its all about available time on hand. The successful ones neither have the time nor need to analyse their success, while the ‘unsuccessful’ ones often have both.:)

  4. I will totally agree that failure is bigger teacher than success. Sometime we as society pay a bigger prices in the failure. Therefore we need to discuss, analyse and document such failure. How much time, money and energy airline industry spend in trying and understand an air crash?

    Understanding why founders part is very critical to start-up success. (especially so in Indian system where school system promote and celebrate individual achievement). Understanding why we could not work together will lead to the way of how we can work together.

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