Paul Iske

Entrepreneurship is an attitude

The last Breakfast Booster before the summer break had to be something special. Prof. Dr. Paul Iske, one of our business school’s professors, would certainly live up to that promise in a very engaging way with lots of humour. He founded the Institute of Brilliant Failures to create more awareness for the complex relationship between innovation and entrepreneurship, and how failures can be beneficial to future success. This morning we learned that failure is not a bad thing. Quite the opposite even!

Prof. Dr. Paul Iske started with an anecdote about the pointer he needed for his presentation but had forgotten at home. He then downloaded a pointer app for his phone which turned out to work brilliantly. It was a crowded room at Buitenplaats Vaeshartelt, and a good lift off for a talk about the stigma of failure, and how to change one’s perception and attitude.

Don’t forget to make mistakes every once in a while!

Everyone agrees we live in a dynamic and complex world. But how to deal with everything, at work, in our companies? Success is a main drive. We all need to be successful. But what about failure and making mistakes? The parameters required to be successful, are also imperative in how to deal with failure. Being agile and resilient matters. But we are creatures of habit who create patterns in our brain. Patterns keep us safe, or so we are inclined to think. We are afraid of failure, and afraid to make mistakes. That’s why we stick to what we know.

“We have to get out of our own canyon,” Paul Iske advices his audience. He explains how entrepreneurship and failure relate to one another. Entrepreneurship is an attitude that leads to the identification and exploitation of previously unexploited opportunities. Failure is just an option in a long list of entrepreneurial attributes, among which passion, stamina, intelligence and creativity stand out. Passion involves risk-taking, and risk-taking can involve failure. But it’s what could happen, it’s not written in stone. Again, fear of failure can keep us from expanding our horizon and step out of our own comfort zone.

The art of breaking patterns

A series of examples show how creativity and ideas can break patterns. Like in sports. In 1968 Dick Fosbury won a gold medal at the Olympics in Mexico City with his own high jumping technique, it was called the Fosbury Flop. In physics, his technique makes perfect sense, but in the minds of those who were used to regular techniques, the flop was daring, and revolutionary. For wordplay, this flop certainly turned out anything but a flop, and a huge success instead.

Paul Iske’s institute lists a number of interesting archetypes of failures, among which the Addiction, the Canyon, the Black Swan, Timing and the Elephant. Each archetype carries certain characteristics for brilliant failures from which new products or concepts found their way into society. Viagra is a failed heart medicine, but useful for ED. Those Post-It notes? The result of a failed attempt to create a new superglue. The connection between entrepreneurship and innovation, sometimes via failure, is an enlightening one, if we accept failure as an experience to learn from.