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INNOVATE

Former U.S. President Barack Obama’s Advice to Entrepreneurs: “If You’re Not Failing, You’re Missing Opportunities”

Everyone makes mistakes. Here’s why Obama says they are crucial for an entrepreneur.

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BY Arianna ODell - 25 Sep 2018

Former U.S. President Barack Obama's Advice to Entrepreneurs: "If You're Not Failing, You're Missing Opportunities"

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Former U.S. President Barack Obama spoke at the Oslo Business Forum in Oslo, Norway this week and gave advice for corporate leaders and entrepreneurs alike. One common theme of his interview with Olso Innovation Week was that failure can be a key to your success.

I often encourage my friends to start their own businesses. But I'm always surprised by the their response. A lot of them claim they'll never have a successful business because they are afraid of failure.

Obama urged the entrepreneurs among the audience to make mistakes and fail. Here are the former president's top three pieces of advice on why you should be making mistakes.

1. Mistakes can help push your boundaries.

"If you're not at least sometimes making mistakes and failing, then you're probably not trying to push the boundaries of what you do," explained Obama during his talk.

The point is not avoiding bad ideas, but rather it's being able to judge each idea and choose the good ones. Linus Pauling was an American chemist and author who won both the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and the Nobel Peace Prize and made several groundbreaking scientific discoveries during his lifetime. One day a graduate student asked him, "Dr. Pauling, how do you have so many good ideas?" In a response similar to Obama's advice, Pauling replied, "Oh! I just have lots of ideas, and throw away the bad ones."

The more bad ideas and mistakes you make, the more good ideas come along with them. So don't be afraid of the bad--that's just part of the journey.

2. If you're not failing, you might be operating out of fear.

When you try to shut down bad ideas during the brainstorming stage, you're actually preventing your brain from being creative. Obama advised the audience on pushing their limits and noted that if you're not, "you're probably operating somewhat out of fear."

You need to be able to think creatively to come up with new ideas that no one has thought of before, so make sure you allow yourself to think and imagine freely.

Let the bad and good flow out together without stopping or analyzing anything. This keeps you in a state of continuously thinking of new things and putting different ideas together, the exact state that breakthrough innovations tend to come from.

Ideas that seem bad now could work in the future. A new technological breakthrough or change in thinking across society could suddenly make a "bad" idea plausible.

Today, you may not have the capacity to see the idea through, but with several more years of experience and more resources, it may become possible for you. Keep a running list of today's "bad" ideas, and they might become valuable later.

3. If you're not failing, you're missing opportunities.

You win some, you lose some. Obama claimed that if "you're not failing, you're missing opportunities."

In failing times, you may feel lousy for having taken a wrong turn. But those bad ideas serve you by teaching you a valuable lesson. Next time, you'll know what to do.

The most successful people in the world have taken plenty of wrong turns. Jeff Bezos decided to create the Fire Phone, a rare failure among so many successes at Amazon. Business guru Gary Vaynerchuk left Youtube in the early 2000s and banked on rival video sharing site Viddler, which turned out to be a flop.

Don't focus on the wrong turns you take. If you see everything in your career as a learning experience, you'll be able to leave bad things behind and start coming up with new ideas--the ones that will lead you to the success you know you're capable of. The next time you fail, just remember--Obama said it's okay.

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