GUEST COLUMN: Celebrate Humility as Well as Failure

The TENN(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following column was written by Steve Chin, Chief Product Officer of Survature and the writer of the Batbean series of children stories. Survature was one of the 10 start-up companies selected for Launch Tennessee’s inaugural “The TENN” master accelerator. Chin shares his personal insights about the experience that he gained through “The TENN.”)  

By Steve Chin

In August of 2013, we had the amazing opportunity to be selected as one of 10 start-ups in “The TENN,” Tennessee’s first master accelerator program. In the TENN’s inaugural year, we received mentorship, access to venture capital firms and marquee customers, and incredible moral support.

“The TENN” program arranged the 10 teams to travel around the state and the country. We were all in the early stages of development, and none of us had any real success at the time. In fact, we were all still learning how to work through failures. We were familiar with the story of WD-40, short for water displacement, 40th formula. It means that the makers of WD-40 had failed 39 times before they got it right.

Within the entrepreneurial community, we believe in celebrating failure because suffering failures is short-term, whereas building muscle memory through learning from failures is long-term. We care more about building the infrastructure and capacity for success. Yet, as I observe our team’s growth, the growth of the other teams, and Launch Tennessee, there is more beyond the intellectual development and commercial trajectory of these teams and start-ups. On one side of the story is Steve Blank’s concept of start-ups testing business hypotheses in the market place until they iterate their way to success. The other side of the story is about personal growth. We all tell each other that we learned a lot, but the more accurate statement is that we grew a lot.

What I have learned personally and have observed from everyone on “The TENN” is that this journey in entrepreneurship is lot harder than at first start. At first start, we approached our venture with passion and conviction and were convinced that we could succeed through hard work. During a year in which we received both positive and negative feedback from mentors, venture capitalists, and customers, we were constantly humbled by how much more we needed to build and fix. Without the right attitude, constant humbling and rejection can really wear you down.

One of my favorite writers as a teenager was Thomas Merton, a Catholic and Trappist monk. To paraphrase Merton’s chapter on Integrity in “New Seeds of Contemplation,” Merton describes how humility and integrity coincide. Most people understand humility as placing everyone else ahead, but that is not correct. Merton believed that humility is being humble enough to listen and become the person God intended that person to be. Integrity shares the same root as integrate, which can be interpreted as to listen and make whole. For Merton, humility and integrity have similar journeys that converge on the same destination.

These principles of humility and integrity apply perfectly to entrepreneurship. It takes real humility and integrity to take risks, accept rejections, listen to feedback, correct for flaws and failures, and integrate lessons learned. Let’s celebrate humility as well as failure because it is humility that provides one with capacity for personal growth.

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