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As part of a talk to aspiring entrepreneurs, I touted the upside of failure; some were surprised.

I was told no over 100 times when I asked investors to fund GRIDSMART. GRIDSMART was born in a self-funded, non-climate controlled attic on used desks. Take a guess at how many “nos” we heard before we, a couple of guys with no background or connections in the industry, were allowed to put up a test GRIDSMART camera. The first ones filled with water and froze; then we got better. We got much, much better. Failure is obligatory on the road to anything special.

In my life, I have thrown the interception at the wrong-right time, been gunned down at home plate trying to score from 2nd, and been molly-whopped and gut-stomped for trying to change the status quo.

Then I threw into a tight space, stretched for an extra base, and took on another “will never happen” because to do otherwise would be to quit. Nothing extraordinary materializes from quitting. Playing it safe most times is a deliberate path to mediocrity.

Great ideas come from mistakes. With two decades of participation trophies, the world feels to me like it is moving away from the risk-taking spirit that built this country. A personal bias, entrepreneurial can be very blue collar. It is not just about high tech; it is about GRIT, loving what you want more than your fear of failure, and about passion and change. GRIDSMART has had some huge success, but I have had some failures as part of that. Twice I have begun to deliver a bucket truck free install, and I am 0 for 2. There will be a 3rd swing, despite the potential to fail again.

Most people associate J.R.R. Tolkien with “The Lord of the Rings,” but he also wrote a certain love story called Beren and Lúthien. Tolkien coined the term eucatastrophein adding the prefix “eu,” meaning “good” to catastrophe. The term was used to describe when terrible events take a sudden joyous turn. Tolkien countered this with the term dyscatatrophe, with the “dys” meaning “bad.”

In an essay, he later described why eucatastrophe could not happen without dyscatatrophe. Beren and Lúthienis one of the most amazing love stories out there (you know, if you’re into that kind of stuff). It ends in eucatastrophe that is only possible through the dyscatatrophe. One must taste the fail to savor the win. It is shameless to fail when trying to do big things.

Ideals and innovation come from a natural, thoughtful, and unrelenting journey where believers refuse to accept the current state of “right.” They take diminutive steps in a new direction, hit brick walls, learn, and, through iteration, push the ball upfield. For those from today’s participation trophy world, we must powerfully emphasize how brick walls and mistakes are teachers and how the power of failure is the stepping stone to success. Not trying is the only failure.

We must embrace that taking risks and failing is mandatory to understand, clarify, innovate, and create positive changes. Mistakes lead us to “Why was that wrong?” Solving this takes us to a place of new understanding, discernment, intuition, and ultimately, triumph.

As the entrepreneur hotel manager Patel said in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, “Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, it is not yet the end.”

Steve Jobs has been quoted as saying, “the idea of death motivated him to never fear failure.”  In a 2005 commencement speech, Jobs said, “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.” He went on to say, “All fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”

So, my friends, what will you do today? Accept the same or change the world? I suspect you already know what a GRIDSMART Man and Woman are doing.


Bill Malkes
Founder, VP, and General Manager
GRIDSMART, A Cubic Company

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