Success & Failure as an Innovator

16th Mar 2015

Read Time: 2:58

Success & Failure as an Innovator

Not all days are created equal.

Ever have a bad day at work? Yeah, me too. Here are a few tricks I've picked up to get over the lumps and bruises that the startup world throws at you. Take them as you will.

When you spend your time dreaming of the future and pushing hard to get there, you tend to get emotionally involved in your project. Heads down, 100 mph, with as much focus as you can muster, your whole day is what you're working on... and then it breaks, funding drops, or you find that fatal flaw that kills the whole project. Welcome to a very bad day in my world. Heart rates go up, voices raise, maybe a choice desk item goes flying. We're trying not to go full retard on an unsuspecting intern or earn that psycho boss moniker. How do we do it?

Step 1: Breathe.

Count to ten. Take a walk. Smoke if you must... no, don't smoke, but whatever you do, just stop for a second. Gather your thoughts, quietly. Consider your behavioral options. Take a breath. The one thing that gives us startup lunatics our stereotypical description are those knee-jerk reactions tied to down-turns in projects we're passionate about. Two minutes of silent reflection can save you an outburst they might be talking about on TechCrunch years later after your Series A. I'm not saying I'm a professional at this. Most who know me best know I'm a bit of an impulsive curser. This is something I'm working on daily, though.

Step 2: Self-moderate or close the laptop.

Does the break-point require a response? Do you think it does? Is a PR response a good idea? Great! Start typing... but for God's sake, not in an email. TextEdit is your friend here. I tend to go mind-flow for a bit to get the high points on 'paper' then organize from there.

You'll notice I didn't mention anything about sending or sharing. That comes later. I've trained myself to hold off on sending an email until I've re-read with calmer eyes at a business appropriate time.


Occasionally, I will use my email client on my phone or iPad, but I NEVER fill in the "To" fields until I've reviewed. Think of your email like it's a gun because sometimes it can be just as effective. Don't ever put your finger on the trigger or complete the sending instructions until you are absolutely ready to fire.

Step 3: Keep moving forward.

You've had a setback. You're mad, hurt, depressed, or any number of feelings but this too, shall pass. We don't live this life for comfort. We live this way because we possess a need to better a product, an industry, or the world. We're driven to innovate. The worst thing we could possibly do is stay still. Walt Disney said it best:

Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we're curious...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.

Mope for a second, dust off, get back to work! Heads down is how we operate best. One tactic that works for me is changing the subject matter when I jump back in. If I've got several projects running (the norm in my world), I tackle another one for a few hours. If I'm just on the one, I start from a different element or issue, and work from a different POV for a little while. The change of pace usually breaks up any of that brain debris that was causing the previous blockage.

Final thoughts.

This life is one of high stress and high reward and those rewards are rarely monetary. We build great stuff. We team up to solve age old problems. We root out inefficiencies and make old things new again. We lucky few get to chase our dreams when others can't or won't. The journey is hard and the valleys get pretty low, but at the end of the day, we're getting to chart our own course. Keep pointing for the peak!

Blog by Jay Thornton