Failure Is The Engine of the Economy

It struck me recently that the economy is actually built upon failures, as opposed to successes.

One would think that it was all the money generated by the huge successes that really powers everything. But really, the bulk of the results in business are failures — or more accurately, unsuccessful attempts. Most of the projects out there don’t succeed (or rather, result in a successful attempt). But there is money spent trying — people to hire, resources to purchase, advertising, support, design, manufacture, printing. And I’m sure there are plenty more industries involved that I am overlooking. But these “failures” far, far outweight the successes we actually hear about. And a lot of money was spent on those attempts.

This got me to wondering if this perspective is something that we can apply to our own businesses, own own “micro-economies”, to help us fuel a more successful version with the understanding of the collectively generative power of unsuccessful attempts.

I look at industries such as movies or music. All those streaming movies in Netflix nobody ever heard of prior to their appearance in the New Arrivals list. All that anonymous music piped into every nook and cranny of the civilized world these days. Occasionally, some of this creative output is quite good and often they are all at least well-made. Each one required the time and effort of professionals. Even if their time was donated to the project, there is still much that needs to be spent to create these films and albums as far as equipment, space, software, hardware — even just food and gasoline to make sure you’re alive and on location. And these are just the projects that make the filter to the outer rim of the radar. Think of all those who never made it even that far.

Think of all those apps on all those app stores. Each one has a team of developers out there, requiring resources, tools and services to make those apps happen. Most of which fail to make any impact or generate any significant revenue. The same holds true in the visual arts, like drawing, painting, illustration and the like. So much talent out there, so much activity. And not all of them are wealthy or famous. Not even close. But much money is spent remaining anonymous and modestly compensated, if that.

This continues to expand to all industries, not just the creative. Construction, housing, manufacturing, healthcare, medicine, toys, transportation — literally, everything. People and business taking chances, and spending money doing so. Spending that money means someone else is being hired, another business is selling their product, an additional subscriber pays for a service. This drive to attempt powering the flow of money.

There’s no way to determine what percentage of these creators is doing so for the love of the craft or aiming for a big payday. But I would imagine a good percentage of them are looking to make this endeavor a success financially. Particularly the non-creative industries. A classic “quit your day job” side project at the least. But many no doubt have taken that risk, quit that job and dived in head-first. Spending money all the way.

We are conditioned to believe that the juggernauts of capitalism (whoever is the reigning titan of that era) are the ones powering the economy, while the small business are here scrounging for scraps. But from down here in the trenches, and with the clients I work with, I see a thriving, driven community of people willing to spend their money to see their vision though. And I would gamble that collectively, it is this effort at this grassroots level of the business sector that really powers the enconomy.

And this inspires me to take chances in my own business, to try new things, aim for the positive but see things in the light of not “success and failure” but instead “successful attempts and failed attempts” — both of which are a healthy aspect of your own micro-economy. Focus on the common word “attempt”. I believe this is also a key component of the distinction of cultivating a Growth Mindset over a Fixed Mindset — we benefit from the accumulation of our unsuccessful attempts — and in a way they actually are an intrinsic precursor to the success.

It’s those of us who make the attempt that keep the engine running. And I’d wager that for each individual micro-economy of all those small businesses, this perspective focusing on attempts — successful or unsuccessful at the singular level — is the life blood that will propel one to success on a collective attempt level. There’s no argument that success requires attempts. And not all attempts are going to succeed. But those unsuccessful attempts seem to be the compost that fertilizes the success. A “failure fertilizer” if you will.

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