How to fail successfully

By Nikhil Kalanjee

10 September 2015

“The first pancake always burns.” Impact Hub Berlin’s MD Nele Kapretz smiles as she explains her attitude to making mistakes. “Whatever you do the first time, you might fail – but then you learn how it’s done...”

"Failing forward" is the key to the success of Impact Hub and its members. Both groups embrace their missteps – they try, fail and try again, learning from the knocks they receive. As Jourvie founder Ekatarina Karabasheva puts it, "we learn more from failing than from a positive experience".

Laugh a lot Staying positive is an important part of processing the lessons of failure

So what insights can Impact Hub and its users give to help you make failure productive? 

Prototype fast and often

"We teach our members the concept of fail early and fail often. Hit the wall fast and then reiterate," says Nele.

It's advice born out of the difficult first year experienced by Impact Hub Berlin. After 12 months of work, the project was on the brink of folding completely. Their big mistake? Not prototyping fast enough. Creating a test space was the catalyst to their success – they were able to quickly try things out, find a profitable model and attract the cash injection they needed to grow.

The take-out: Prototype as soon as possible – get things wrong when the stakes are low, and use your mistakes as stepping-stones to bigger, better solutions.

"Fail early, fail often" Nele Kapretz Impact Hub Berlin MD

Forget about making the perfect decision

 "Once you understand you always make mistakes, it makes it easier for you to go ahead", say Ekaterina. The young entrepreneur has been learning everything from choosing the right partnerships to negotiating funding applications as her company develops.

Initially, the pressure to deliver results made every choice agonising. The perceived cost of failure created a sense of paralysis that hindered decision-making in the business. To break the spell, Jourvie had to embrace the idea that mistakes are inevitable – and that even making the wrong decision is better than making no decision.

The take-out: Moving forward beats standing still. So be decisive, accept that mistakes happen and make failing part of your decision-making process.

Ekaterina KarabashevaEkaterina Karabasheva of Jourvie promotes an open and supportive attitude towards discussing mistakes.

Share your mistakes

One of the most popular events in the Impact Hub calendar is a regular celebration of when things go gloriously wrong – the pithily named F***-up Night. It gives everyone in the hub a chance to get together and share stories of disaster over a drink.

F***-up Night serves two purposes for the entrepreneurs. Firstly, it's a great chance to vent frustrations and move on from mistakes by laughing about them in a supportive environment. But secondly, and more importantly, talking about what went wrong with sympathetic but dispassionate peers is an effective way to really unearth the reasons things went belly up – and that's the first step to turning failure into success.

The take-out: Celebrate failure by creating opportunities to discuss what went wrong in a supportive environment. 

How has failure helped you succeed? Let us know in the comments.