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Awarding Failure

On April 18th, the finalists for the 2011 CityLIGHTS awards were nominated. We have tremendous companies in our membership roster: some have been around for a while and some are just getting started. Today I wanted shine the light on our “failure” in launching a new category, the “Comeback Entrepreneur of the Year”.

We had asked the community to come up with a category this year, and the new category that arose was the “Comeback Entrepreneur of the Year”. This category would allow us to take the time to recognize the entrepreneur that has gone through trials and tribulations and celebrate the fact that he or she came back from rough times. The thing is that while there is exuberance to talk about this, there were actually very few people who wanted to present themselves as a “Comeback Entrepreneur of the Year”. It’s kind of funny in the sense that, while we all want a good story, no one is really willing to put themselves out there. Thinking this way is a bit difficult for us in the IT community. In many other communities or countries, people are willing to talk about their failures; indeed, they wear their failures as a stripe on their shoulder. Rituals that mark a time of failure on our paths to success remind us about a time when things didn’t go as expected but we learned something and took away lessons that helped us achieve success in the future. Unfortunately, here in the Midwest, or at least here in Illinois, it doesn’t happen as much. I think that as a community and as a society we need to begin to recognize that sometimes there is much more value in learning from failure, than from success itself.

The idea behind the comeback entrepreneur came about because we tend to recognize success but we don’t often recognize what actually went into that success. The path to success is not always a clean and clear path. Its takes time, effort, trials and sometimes the outcome is not the best and at times things look like they are going to fail. So the “Comeback Entrepreneur” award was going to highlight those resilient moments and lessons learned throughout the process.

An ideal candidate for this award would have been someone who has built a company that may have gone through rough times and went bankrupt or otherwise failed, and got up and built another one with success due to lessons learned. Another example is an entrepreneur whose company was flying high, then hit rough times and went down but slowly came back up. The lessons here are much more valuable than an easy ride.

The irony here is that we failed at the attempt to make this category happen. The “Comeback Entrepreneur” is not happening. We only received two nominations in this category, where in the other categories we had averaged 20 nominations each. A lesson learned here for us is to seed the opportunity of awarding your “failures” a bit differently. What most prompted me to write this blog is to create some awareness in different communities about the benefits that come with recognizing the value of our failures as they have helped us get to where we are today.

As a result of highlighting failure, we have the gift of advising the younger generation or any other upcoming entrepreneurs, based on experiences and lessons learned. By opening doors to further innovation, we are allowing others to try something new, and preventing others from making the same mistakes.

Failure in business is like falling when learning to ride a bike, we all fall; some harder than others. But the lessons we learned in falling are transferable and prepare us to aid others for the inevitable falls that we all experience. Success doesn’t always look as we envision it, but lessons learned in failure are a success in itself.

So who do you give an “A” for “Failure”?

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