Creator of the start-up Rise, Suneel Gupta, pictured here back in 2009, was once the poster child of failure in business, but has worked hard to turn his failure into success. Photo: Getty Images

Anna Hughes looks at failure, rejection and how to learn deliberately from them to get support for our business ideas 

Tomorrow’s Government Budget is the epitome of competition for ideas and initiatives – some have won out, and many others have been squashed.

What makes some ministers and government agencies more successful than others in getting their initiative off the ground and the associated budget funding?

In a couple of days Techweek NZ is rolling out again – including a TEDx event where diverse speakers and ideas with “potential to change the world” are showcased.

What do you think? Click here to comment.

What gives these people and investors the x-factor that brings their ideas and thinking credibly to life?

And a decade on from the last Apprentice TV show, it’s back – providing a different perspective on the competition for ideas, initiatives and funding to back them.

Rejection of ideas

If you’ve worked in a New Zealand business or created one, chances are you will know the feeling of failure when your idea or proposal is rejected or fails. Hopefully we’ve all known the feeling of success as well.

How often do we analyse what created that success, or resulted in the failure? Chances are that we are so busy squeezing the next thing in, meeting tight deadlines or dealing with an unexpected curve ball to learn what worked and what didn’t.

New Zealand is renowned for its niche enterprises. Last year around 60,000 new enterprises started up here – about 10 percent up on the previous year. And 54,000 died – about 10 percent fewer on the previous year. That’s the reality of success and failure in business right there.

Learning from failure

Lessons are everywhere. There’s a real opportunity to be deliberate about creating an environment to learn from the good and not so good, and as we do find better ways to influence and get backing for our ideas.

In Wellington, leadership and change expert Digby Scott runs the Change Makers programme. Here he incubates change makers, with skills and strategies to navigate the unpredictable and sometimes lonely world of creating transformational change.

Grounded in Scott’s teaching and approach is the concept of experiments. Creating an hypothesis, planning and executing an experiment and learning from the results to help understand what works and what doesn’t, get others on board and to try things, being prepared to fail.

In the US, creator of the start-up Rise, Harvard innovation lecturer and now author Suneel Gupta was once the poster child of failure in business. He has worked hard to turn his failure into success and to try to work out what makes some people, ideas and initiatives get backing and be successful.

Getting ideas across the line

Gupta’s formula for creating influence in support of ideas and changes is at each of our fingertips.

Some of us might be used to doing these things to get support for our initiative: pre-socialising with enough people so they’ll say yes when a decision is called for, or believing the weight of our personalities, position in an organisation or sheer doggedness will clear the way. That might work in some government agencies and with ministers pushing their budget agendas, but there are better ways. 

In Gupta’s new book Backable he shares an approach – drawing together his own lessons as an entrepreneur, and the insights of venture capitalists, executives at iconic companies like Lego and Pixar and founders of Unicorn start-ups.

A snapshot of Gupta’s insights, useful in post-Covid for any of us wanting to get our idea across the line:

1. Charisma doesn’t get ideas backed, conviction does. You need to be convinced by your idea before you can expect others to be. And that shows up with how inspired and motivated you are by your proposal, how you position it, how you talk about it.

2. Take just enough time to incubate your idea. Once you’ve got your idea, proposal or change idea, refrain from sharing it when it’s half-baked. Be deliberate about the story you tell about your proposal. When you do start sharing it, steer into the objections that might come your way early on.

3. Go beyond Google – provide insights and an experience that can’t be searched online. Bring your idea or initiative to life by building a human connection to it or a change in experience. Gupta says casting a central character – with experiences, feelings and emotions and pitching your idea and initiative for them has created the difference between success and failure for many entrepreneurs and business people.

I wonder if the Backable advice from Gupta was applied to some of the pre-Budget announcements from the Government, whether the pay freeze for our public sector would have made it through or whether the immigration pre-announcement this week would have had some substance rather than rehashing old policies.

What I do know is, if we learn more deliberately from our successes and failures and learn different ways to get support for our ideas we will get better and different initiatives and policy and stronger businesses along the way.

Listen to Anna Hughes’ ‘Books That Work’ podcast latest episode featuring Backable by Suneel Gupta available on Apple and Spotify or where you usually listen to your podcasts, or on

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