Failure, France and the Future

October 24, 20223 Minutes

Month: October 2022

2022 marks the 10th anniversary of 60 000 Rebonds, a French non-profit that helps hundreds of entrepreneurs ‘rebound’ after the liquidation of their companies. As one of the association’s volunteer coaches I’ve given some thought to their motto Changer le regard sur l’échec, which literally translates to “Change the perception of failure”.  Failure may seem like an unnecessarily strong term for what is by definition a risky venture, but échec is strong with a lot of baggage and strings attached.  In France, we don’t talk about entrepreneurs that “did not succeed”; rather, we talk about ones that failed.

This perspective is rooted in the French culture.  At school in North America, children earn points for the work they do, hoping to reach a coveted A or A+. In France, they lose points for each mistake made, making it possible to receive less than zero on an assignment. The stereotype of fault-finding French schoolteachers that appraise good work with silence is unfortunately the reality of many a classroom. As a university exchange student, I recall being told that many teachers never give 20/20 on principle since “le 19 est réservé au prof et le 20 à Dieu” (a score of 19 is for the professor and 20 is for God).

So it is no wonder that, while in the US an entrepreneur often has no qualifying adjective until she or he is considered successful, in France success is defined as the absence of failure.  And when an entrepreneur’s company goes under, that difference becomes critical.  While going through the turmoil and pain of losing their ‘baby’ which they have been building over the years, they have to carry the additional psychological burden of being perceived as a failure. Does a potential investor or employer value the experience brought to the table, or judge solely the latest end result?

Changing a perception engrained in the culture will not happen overnight.  Getting from ‘failure’ to ‘not successful’ might be only a baby step, but one that has yet to be made.   Which is why the 60 000 Rebonds motto resonates so strongly for me.  To help entrepreneurs see the value of their experience, the amazing skills they have developed and the achievements they can be proud of, all of which will make them even more astute and effective in their next adventure, whatever the form. And with the increasing number of entrepreneurs in France, and expanding ecosystem to support their ventures, I’m optimistic that it’s simply a matter of time before all those around these ‘veteran entrepreneurs’ see it too.