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Startup Secret 37: To fail is to succeed

Don't trust success. Statistically, it's a way station on the road to failure. Study the road instead.

"Success gives you the credibility to talk about your failures."

--Osman Kent, CEO, Numecent

We celebrate success in entrepreneurship. Obviously. But Osman Kent, who's started several companies, says we really should keep it at arm's length. "Success is a bad teacher," he says. We're better off learning from successful people who have failed.

Osman says that, statistically, even the most successful people regress toward the norm. The chances are that if you are a big success at one job, you'll be less so at the next. The success comes from realizing why. And the trick, when learning how to succeed, is to find the people who have failed, and learn how they recovered.

This ties in to the failure mode Osman got himself into several times, he said, when he was younger: He hired people based on their analytical skills instead of their "doing" skills. He recommends now hiring based on character traits and attitude, given a baseline of ability. People with a positive outlook and a drive to improve are far more likely to learn from the naturally occuring failures they will be responsible for.

Osman told me, "I talk endlessly about where I failed." He says people even listen. They wouldn't, though, if all he did was fail. And thus the koan for today: To learn from success, study failure.

(Osman's latest venture, by the way, is flying mostly stealth for a few more weeks; watch CNET News for more.)

Startup Secrets is based on personal interviews with people building companies and from their blog posts and news stories. Subscribe to Startup Secrets on Twitter or come back to Rafe's Radar every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a new one. See all the Startup Secrets.