Start-Up Nation, or Pick-Yourself-Up-and-Start Again Nation?

Written by Inbar Almagor, Digital Leaders Israel

In the face-paced business of technology, failure is not just inevitable—it’s necessary. In any quest to disrupt a market, entrepreneurs have to take massive risks. Those risks frequently backfire, and this failure still bears a certain stigma. We believe that for entrepreneurs to dream even bigger, the business community has to be liberated from this stigma. Liberating people to talk frankly about their failures is vital to promoting a healthy business culture that encourages entrepreneurs to persevere.

That’s why Digital Leaders Israel recently hosted ‘Digital Fiasco’—a night to celebrate failure. Inspired by the worldwide success of the ‘F*%k-Up Nights’ phenomenon—TED talks-style presentations on personal stories of failure—we brought together leading figures in Israeli society to open up to graduates of our programme about their professional failures.

Talking about failure, if legitimised, can be empowering—especially when one learns to laugh about those experiences. Take Shahar Pe’er, the most successful female Israeli tennis player in history. She was the star of the Digital Fiasco night. Pe’er discussed how she crashed in the world tennis rankings and had to rehabilitate herself by pursuing a training strategy she called ‘point by point’, focusing on winning one point at a time. Eventually, she pulled herself back up—and now laughs at the experience. Laughter is the key to confidence.

It’s always difficult to talk about failure. Psychologically, it’s tough to admit a wasted investment of time and money—and it’s even harder to risk one’s reputation by sharing that failure. In the public sector, that problem is much worse. In the private sector, venture capitalists accept the risk that some investments will fail—and entrepreneurs can move on to the next project, knowing that their financial backers do not expect a 100% success rate. But governments are less tolerant: they’re spending their citizens’ money. So if civil service digital initiatives wind up as a white elephant, senior managers cannot pick themselves up so easily and carry on—the norm is to hold them accountable.

In any digital market, entrepreneurs will fail repeatedly. The difference between a healthy and unhealthy digital culture is whether those entrepreneurs give up or pick themselves up, learn their lessons, and move on. Cultivating an understanding across society that even very high successful people fail can take the sting out of failure. It shows that moments of failure are often great turning points, paving the way for future success. Many of today’s digital giants have made disastrous mistakes—recall the flop that was Google Glass. But they learnt from those mistakes, and they emerged stronger by learning their lessons.

With over 120 graduates in senior positions across public service and civil society, the Israeli Digital Leaders alumni network has become a hub for its participants to sustain contacts and continue learning together about advances in digital innovation. This critical mass of opinion leaders in key positions will continue to engineer breakthroughs in Israel’s public sector—including promoting a healthier attitude towards trial and error nationwide.

One of the secrets of Israel’s start-up success is the willingness of its entrepreneurs to pursue wild dreams and then, when they don’t succeed, to pick themselves back up. But even that willingness is not unlimited. By pushing it further, we hope to upgrade the competitive edge of the Israeli economy and push it towards ever greater innovation and creativity.

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