Trial and Error: an Essential Part of Success


Starting a business with no formal business education and no managerial experience was daunting, to say the least.

I never knew if I “knew enough”.

I never knew if I was doing the “right thing”.

I never knew if my efforts were worthwhile, until, well, they were.

The one thing I did know, was that there was no way of knowing something for sure unless I tried it.

 Graduate degree in business, extensive market research, and rich cultivation of experienced mentors and sponsors are all elements of success that I’ve integrated into my entrepreneurial pursuits over the past few years, but despite my increased resource options, I still find myself having to embark on the often-excruciating “trial and error” phase of business innovation.

It’s not fun.

It’s often quite humbling (aka humiliating).

But it’s still essential.

When questioned about his light bulb innovation, Thomas A. Edison stated, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

From Edison’s 10,000 ways that did not work, came a life changing invention that we still utilize today. I’m sure he got frustrated with each fail. I’m sure he got down and discouraged at times. I’m sure he – also – did not find the trial and error process of progress to be “fun”.

Realizing success as an entrepreneur means trying new things – new things that you aren’t sure are going to work.

Most employees have more guidance from coworkers and superiors than entrepreneurs’ experience, and employees also have less skin in the game when it comes to the trial and error process.

“I don’t know why you’re so stressed out about this project, Hannah,” a fellow marketing professional stated, “At work, I manage several client accounts and when a project fails we just move on – it’s not that big a deal.”

“That’s because you get a paycheck even when your projects flop. As an entrepreneur, I don’t. Should one of my projects fail, it means I don’t get paid, which means I don’t eat and I could lose my house. I don’t have the safety net you do as an employee,” I replied.

Whether it’s implementing a bold new project for an ambitious client or executing a new product launch for my own company, the “error” aspect of the trial and error strategy can be rough.

On one hand, the inner wild child say, “Just do it!” while the “I like having food on the table” part of me whispers, “Are you sure this will work?”

But the truth of the matter is that we can only be “sure this will work” if we try it.

Market analysis and professional opinions are great, but they aren’t always right.

How many times do the super-experienced and super-educated Shark Tank investors shoot down a business concept that goes on to make millions?

How many times have today’s leading innovators had their billion dollar ideas stomped on as “ludicrous thinking”?

No matter how well researched you are, how smart you are, and no matter how experienced you are, you will not know – for sure – if your idea is brilliant or crazy until you try.

I don’t like trial and error any more than the next guy, but as I have become more accepting of its essentialness as I continue upon this entrepreneurial journey. You can’t have success without failure; you can’t figure out what will work without trial and error.

It’s an exhausting, yet essential, element of entrepreneurial success. 

In the words of the literary great, William Faulkner:

“At one time I thought the most important thing was talent. I think now that — the young man or the young woman must possess or teach himself, train himself, in infinite patience, which is to try and to try and to try until it comes right. He must train himself in ruthless intolerance. That is, to throw away anything that is false no matter how much he might love that page or that paragraph. The most important thing is insight, that is … curiosity to wonder, to mull, and to muse why it is that man does what he does. And if you have that, then I don’t think the talent makes much difference, whether you’ve got that or not.”

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