On the Importance of Failing

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What do business titans Henry Ford, Walt Disney, and F.W. Woolworth all have in common? They all had multiple business failures before launching their successful enterprises.

Look around at some of the most successful startup communities in the US, you will find one very common trait: they all embrace failure as a necessity for innovation. Chicago, however, still struggles with this concept.

The city is slowly coming around to the thinking that in order to be an innovation hub and spur the next generation of disruptive startups, it must become much more comfortable embracing failure and talking about it openly. Dozens of amazing people and groups are pushing Chicago’s business culture toward one that is far more understanding of entrepreneurship’s inherent risks. Many of them are finding as they go, there is resistance to change.

This resistance manifests in dismissive comments from top CEOs or a lack of media interest or even a state government that seems to be trying to crush Internet startups. Is this endemic to Chicago? Of course not. In any new startup community there are talkers and doers. The doers, who are fighting to create a new Chicago, are finding the talkers have plenty to blather about when it comes to changing decades of focus from Fortune 500 companies to ramen-noodle powered startups.

New ventures don’t have million-dollar-CEO’s or run national TV ads; plus they fail quite often. What they do have are the creative entrepreneurs that will shape the next decade of business growth and job creation in Chicago.

They are the people that will put Chicago on the map as a global innovation hub. Now is not the time to rely on Chicago’s giant corporations to move this city into the decade of progress we need. That change and the associated job growth will stem from the startup community, not from Fortune 500 mega-brands. In order to get where we need to go as a city, we need to dramatically raise our risk tolerance and accept the fact entrepreneurship is messy.

That means that the old-money networks, traditional media and Fortune 500 in Chicago must start to embrace failure not as a sign of weakness, but as the badge of honor that all great cities wear on the road lasting economic transformation.

Seth Kravitz has been involved in the IT industry since he started a web design company in 2002. He co-founded InsuranceAgents.com in 2004 and helped grow the company to #24 on the Inc. 500 List. In November 2010 he co-founded a digital magazine called Technori to celebrate entrepreneurship in Chicago and recently co-founded a one week entrepreneur event called S.P.A.R.K. Chicago scheduled for July 2011. ”

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