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US entrepreneur in NZ to teach business how to fail

Thursday 19th May 2016

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The United States entrepreneur Gary Bolles is clear on why we as individuals and business owners can be keen to avoid a leap in the dark. 

“Risk is a pain. Risk is a bad thing that can happen. As humans, we tend to be risk averse. So for the first one, take a small risk".

Bolles is in New Zealand for a series of talks for Callaghan Innovation that's tagged around 'the F-word'. That F-word is failure. Callaghan is worried that there is a stigma around failure in New Zealand that's to blame for a lack of research and development and investment in higher-risk projects and businesses. 

For Bolles, part of the problem is the way humans view the word failure: "failure is a very emotion coded word for a lot of people. Sometimes people don’t talk about having a failure, they talk about being a failure." Coming from California, home of tech giants like Google and Facebook, he says a different mindset is needed: "In Silicon Valley, it’s absolutely critical that you can feel that you can take risks. It’s absolutely critical to have an open minded view to taking risks”.

His work in Silicon Valley is wide-ranging over the last 30 years, covering executive work for software startups to acting as a consultant for the likes of Sony and Intel as well as non-profits like the Dalai Lama Foundation. He served as a founding partner for Google's Zeitgeist, which aims to bring together some of the world's leading thinkers. 

To tackle risk aversion, he argues you need to adopt baby steps, he said.

"If you’re worried about quitting your job, going into a new arena, what are the ways you can experiment with that? Same thing with starting a business. What is the way you can figure out while you have a job, if you can test out whether your idea has any merit? Think out ways to take small steps."

But perhaps his most important view is on how to fail. "If you find out that you’re wrong, find out quickly, so you can pivot. Put yourself in a position where you can learn, and then learn from mistakes you made, then go make new ones. So that eventually you’ll find yourself coalescing around the right solution”. 

Bolles has spoken in Wellington and Auckland and is due to speak in Christchurch tomorrow. Callaghan argues NZ needs to raise its research and development which is currently around half the Organisation for Economic and Co-operative Development average. 

BusinessDesk receives funding from Callaghan Innovation to help fund coverage of the commercialisation of innovation.

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