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Transforming failure into an act of courage

Three ways to enable us to redefine failure

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We have all seen it: an entrepreneur finds himself or herself in a difficult situation and immediately, criticism bursts forth from all sides.

On social media in particular, comments can flare up quickly. They say you are a "liar," "incompetent," or a "cheater."

What gets lost in all this noise is that risk must be taken to get big things done. Nothing risked, nothing accomplished.

Instead of criticizing entrepreneurs who find themselves in a situation of failure, we should instead admire their courage, the fact that they dared and tried, even if it did not lead to the desired result.

Not just the bright side

We have all experienced failure, but we are not very inclined to talk about it. My bio, for example, could be read as a list of my successes. But there is another bio of Michel Bergeron, and that one does not just look at the bright side.

I could tell you that after having studied law for five years, I found myself at age 22 on the first day of my first job in a law firm . . . and that after just one day, I knew that a career in a large firm was not for me.

That said, the field of law leads everywhere, on the condition that you get out. . .

Leaving the perfectionist culture behind

Thinking about failure allows us to realize to what extent we live in a perfectionist culture.

Failure is the price to pay for trying. The absence of failure should be perceived as the absence of progress. Rather than associating failure with shame, it should be associated with courage and with winners!

According to convention, it is necessary to hide our failures, to keep them out of sight, like something shameful. In reality, however, these failures are part of our life. They are part of who we are and are sometimes the key to our greatest successes.

Failure is the price to pay for trying. The absence of failure should be perceived as the absence of progress. Rather than associating failure with shame, it should be associated with courage and with winners!

No risk means stagnation. No risk means regresssion.

Learning to appreciate business failure

At BDC, we work with over 49,000 entrepreneurs across Canada.

That is to say that we collaborate with a critical mass of people who take risks every day.

Many of these entrepreneurs will fail.

Only 50% of businesses in Canada survive more than five years.


50% of businesses will be successful.

However, if we look at it differently, many of these entrepreneurs succeed.

These successful businesses will provide new products and services that will solve the problems with which we are now confronted.

The bank that doesn’t shy away from risks

How can we know who these winners will be? We will never be 100% certain.

Prediction is difficult, but at BDC we have decided to encourage risk taking all the same. In fact, we finance nearly 2,000 start-ups every year. In a way, we are the largest entrepreneurial risk-taking laboratory in Canada.

Take, for example, our Venture Capital division. As shown by the venture capital theory in the graphical representation below, it is a very risky business strategy.

Of 10 businesses supported by risk capital

So, why do we take the risk of investing in these businesses? Because these two winning businesses have the potential to change our lives and those of our children, for the better.

It is encouraging to see that a change in perception of entrepreneurship culture is taking shape in Canada. Increasingly, entrepreneurship and risk taking are starting to be appreciated and encouraged here.

That said, we still have a way to go to change our perception of those who take risks and those who have failed.

Three ways to change our concept of failure

1. Let's talk about failure and change our perception of it

We need to demystify and destigmatize failure. The next time you meet someone who talks to you about a failure, do not judge them. Instead, ask them what they learned. Also, let's share the lessons from our failures.

2. Let's stop fearing failure

Risk taking and change are the keys to success in this era of great technological change. The fear of the status quo needs to be greater than the fear of failure.

So let's take risks, but do it intelligently.

3. Let's take action

As leaders, business executives or team leads, it is important to create a space where risk taking is encouraged and errors are perceived as a learning opportunity.

As a society, we owe it to ourselves to do the same thing.

Let's stop making hasty judgements and have more empathy for those who have dared to take risks!

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