Cost of Learning is Failure!

A few days back, I was speaking to a friend and colleague Aarti Gill, founder of OZiva (health nutrition brand) about three sets of people in life and brands in business.

Discoverers : They hypothise and find something new that exists, can be created or tamed. They make attempts but are restricted due to resource crunch or lack of will.

Conquerors : They conquer the landscapes i.e. lands, breakthrough technologies, pioneer new product usages.

Colonisers : They come and colonise/monopolise the markets by correcting some of the early mistakes of conquerors/pioneers and get a larger market share in the meantime conquerer saps/loses energy in the initial fight creating that market.

Example I gave was about P&G's near monopoly of diaper/sanitary napkin market (coloniser) while Johnson was the conqueror.. creating a diaper. They made the mistake of using expensive Egyptian cotton and thus was expensive. Even though the concept of diapers and sanitary pads was lapped up but the usage was rather restricted due to high cost unless P&G changed the material and brought down the costs.

Result? No one knows that it was Johnson who came up with the idea of diapers while 'pampers' rules the western world. Johnson is too embarrassed of the drubbing and we rarely get to learn about the mistakes. However, calling it a mistake is a Hindsight bias.. Imagine had Johnsons not made the first diaper?

What is the lesson that I am trying to impart here?

I believe that our society's "mistakephobia" is crippling, a problem that begins in most elementary schools, where we learn to learn what we are taught rather than to form our own goals and to figure out how to achieve them.

We are fed with facts and tested and those who make the fewest mistakes are considered to be the smart ones, so we learn it is embarrassing to not know and to make mistakes. Our education system spends virtually no time on how to learn from mistakes, yet this is critical to real learning. As a result, school typically doesn't prepare young people for real life - unless their lives are spent following instructions and pleasing others

Businesses are even more severe in punishment towards adventurous. Even though everyone wants an 'Entrepreneurial' manager (both are so contradictory words), they are the first to shoot down in interviews itself, anyone with a different or courageous idea.

Imagine if you quit your job pursuing a business idea (yours truly being one) & most struggle given 90% of new businesses fail, to get back into corporate is a challenge. Continuing doing the same thing what Shiv kumar (my ex CEO at Philips) used to call, "Incrementalism of decimal point managers", is considered an excellent career choice while someone who failed trying new thing is deemed failure. Even though he may have more learning about consumers & markets, failure being the biggest teacher.

"I get flack for saying , “This is a nice college, but the really great educator is McDonald’s.” They hate me for saying this and think I’m a slimy creature. But McDonald’s hires people with bad work habits, trains them, and teaches them to come to work on time and have good work habits. I think a lot of what goes on there is better than at Harvard.” - Munger