Tag Archives: Sustainability

Tips for Business Start Ups: immortality ain’t what it’s cracked up to be

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.

What’s the big deal about sustainability?

In much public life, the idea that ones efforts – whether artistic or educational or economic – should be sustainable is a highly persuasive piece of rhetoric. If your work is any good, the argument goes, and if you want money for it, then you must have a sustainability plan. You must want to see it existing over and beyond the short time of its current life time. If you can’t argue that it’s sustainable, there is an almost automatic burocratic frown placed against the merits of the project. It can’t be that good, they say, if it can’t be sustained. If there’s no more of the same, then what is the point of the project in the first place?

But why? Our lives are unsustainable. Like it or not, our death partners will call for us all one day. No-ones going to be left out of that particular public project. Our lives are the essence of unsustainability so why do we expect it of the artefacts we make, the dreams that we dream ?

Death and decay is much a part of creativity as its more user-friendly sister, birth and generation. Perhaps we should plan for project ending, closure and fading away in the public sector as much as we argue for sustainability, legacy and immortality.  It would at least make for much shorter funding applications and mean that the short time we have on this planet has one less burocratic task attached to it.