Bring out the Clowns

My Friend Butch wrote this. He is an entrepreneur and owner of HUGE Improv Theater in Minneapolis.
He has been a sounding board more than once in my ventures and has such an incredibly unique look at business that I can not help but admire the way he does it. It is rarely a wonder to me why people flock to his theater and give of their time, energy, and money when you listen to him talk.

Talking to a friend of mine yesterday really got me thinking about this again.
I talk to people all the time about my experience working on/starting/opening HUGE, and one of the most common themes I hear back from people is how they would be afraid to do something like that – and I agree with them, since I was for a long time – but almost everyone gets it backwards.

99.99% of people will tell you that they would be afraid of failing.
I think almost everyone is afraid of succeeding.

Sure, the potential consequences of failure are something to keep in mind if you’re mortgaging your house or taking on massive personal risk to fund your endeavor.  Yes indeed. Don’t be stupid. These are good things to think about – but these are just the details. These are things you can be smart about and make failure perfectly survivable, so that isn’t what stops people.

I don’t think the fear of being seen as a failure stops people either – especially since we can see time and again, in example after example, how the consequences of failure aren’t really as bad as we think we think they are.  And how we idolize people for not being afraid to try and fail and try again.  So it’s not that.

In fact, failing is one of the most acceptable things to do in many areas – because we place such a value on trying. We tell our kids to try, try again. We tell stories of famous people that failed over and over and kept trying new things. It’s an admirable thing to do – as long as you weren’t being blatantly stupid, continue to learn and continue to try.
It shows bravery in a certain way.

But trying to do something and failing still allows one very important thing that success does not – a way out.

If you attempt to open a theater or start a new business and it fails you can still move on, become something else later on, make radical changes or even learn from the failure to come back to try again later.
If you succeed? Then you are expected to know what you’re doing, have a plan that stretches well into the future and commit to it on a level that will really define who you are for a long time.
Now I’m a theater owner. Now I must learn and take on all the things that I am expected to know. Now I must know what to do next. Now I have to be willing and able to do it instead of just talking about how all the romantic notions of how I could have done it…if only.

And I think THAT is the most intimidating part – locking yourself down.
If you try something and fail, you still have the option to be anything you choose. If you try and succeed, you have chosen…at least for now.

If we got the theater off the ground and it went down in flames despite our best efforts – sure, there would be financial consequences for a while. But we would have at least tried, which is extremely important and admirable – and could still try again.
But we didn’t.
I joked about it in my toast at the One Year Anniversary Show, saying “we did 12 months of really hard work, now all that’s left to do is run this thing for the rest of our natural lives”.

When you compare the two possible outcomes of trying and their duration – I am willing to bet, if we’re being honest with ourselves and one another, that what stops us from making the leap is not the fear of hard, fast failure but the terrifying possibility of having to weigh ourselves against a long and uncertain success.

Butch Roy at Google+