Fail fast and often is the constant refrain of the lean startups movement and many others, but when Gabriella Cacciotti and James Hayton, of Warwick Business School, interviewed 65 entrepreneurs they found that fear of failure remains omnipresent as a new business develops. Their research identified seven sources of fear. These were repeatedly raised by the 65 entrepreneurs and have been validated by further research: financial security; ability to fund the venture; personal ability/self-esteem; the potential of the idea; threats to social esteem; the venture’s ability to execute; opportunity costs.
Dr. Cacciotti said: “What we found was that the relationship which entrepreneurs have with failure is much more complex than that portrayed by success stories. Failure and the fear of failure are nuanced and multi-faceted.
“So, how can and should entrepreneurs respond to the fear of failure? Our research revealed four key strategies that enable entrepreneurs to ensure fear of failure works positively.”
The four techniques the researchers found entrepreneurs use are:
Emotional self-monitoring and control: Emotional self-awareness is a skill that can be learned, and involves becoming aware of the signs of emotions intruding upon consciousness through feelings and moods, anticipating their impact on thoughts, and using this conscious awareness to limit their effects upon decision and action in competition.
Self-awareness can help curb the potent influences of negative emotions on goal-setting and decision-making.
Problem-solving: Actively seeking out flaws and weaknesses and doing something about them is a powerful means of reducing the fear of failure.
Taking a deliberately action-oriented approach, overcoming the desire to repress or ignore the problem, will be especially important. Of course, all weaknesses can never be eliminated. For any entrepreneur, perfectionism is potentially dangerous.
Learning: Education, training and information seeking are a powerful antidote to the fear of failure. Learning can help mitigate fears resulting from doubts over personal abilities directly by increasing key capabilities.
There are always unknown unknowns out there, and so a willingness to continue to learn, gather information and insight from diverse sources can help to mitigate the fear of failure.
Support seeking: Mentors and social supports are beneficial because they support the three prior activities of learning, problem-solving and even self-awareness. Mentors are an important source of learning.
Early stage entrepreneurs frequently benefit from local communities and networks, providing formal or informal access to mentoring from those with more experience. Through this process, they learn that feelings of uncertainty and worry are commonplace, as well as what issues are deserving of attention and which problems will fix themselves over time.
Professor Hayton said: “The fear of failure is widespread and has both negative and positive effects on motivation, decision-making and behaviour.
“One important outcome that should not be overlooked: motivation from fear can bring higher levels of stress, with potentially negative health consequences as well as undermining the life satisfaction of entrepreneurs.
“While all may experience it, the ability to anticipate and manage fear is likely to have positive benefits for an entrepreneur’s quality of life and wellbeing.”