We’re regularly reminded in the popular press failure rates of new businesses: 40% of start ups fail in the first year of trading; 70% fail within 10 years; and no doubt there are some figures somewhere which show that an unacceptable 99% of businesses don’t make it to their 100 years anniversary. Shame on them: yet another searing indictment of modern day capitalism, the waywardness of youth and the irresponsibility of the public sector or any other modern ill you care to remember.
The language of failure is however one which needs some early retirement itself. Businesses – human beings even – don’t have a God given right to last forever and there is nothing pathologically or morally wrong with the notion that businesses last for as long as they’re needed – after which they are likely to come to an end. This is not failure but recognising that everything – including businesses – have their time and their space and their role is to inhabit their time-space node, contribute to those around them and when the time and space is right – to gracefully withdraw from action.
Immortality in business life – often referred to as sustainability or legacy – is a seductive concept and, in human affairs, is frequently the cause of great art and music. It is not however the cause of great business: the conceit that your business will last for ever leads to sleepless nights, increasing bar bills and bedroom floors strewn with empty pill bottles. If you can accept that your new start up may peak early, deliver beyond its promise and then burn out as quickly as it started, then you stand a chance of surviving notions of failure long enough to do it all over again with the next love of your life: your next new start up.