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Paul Hawken: Be Bold and Fail

Words by Jonathan Mariano
Investment & Markets

There are a ton of sustainable business ideas out there.  Some of these ideas gradually build upon prior technology.  Other ideas catapult us beyond our imaginations.  So what should an entrepreneur do?  If we ask environmentalist and entrepreneur, Paul Hawken, he suggests to be bold and fail.

Hawken gave the opening keynote to a group of entrepreneurs at the inaugural Green Business Base Camp (GBBC) in Los Angeles, CA.  As the name implies, GBBC is an accelerator for Green Business and Cleantech Entrepreneurs.  Hawken reflected and shared his entrepreneurial insights from past experiences.

Be bold
Entrepreneurs have the unique ability, not only to identify what people need in the future, but also to jump on it and try to make that possible future a veritable reality.
Many decades ago, Hawken started his first business, a natural foods business.  This was a bold move, because his business was started before we had nationwide natural foods chains, or even recognizable chains with aisles dedicated to natural foods.  Hawken had little background in this field (the field didn’t even exist) and little employment experience (he was only 19 years old).  However, he had passion for the business.

At the time, students from Ivy League schools were doing research on the business that he started. Ironically, Hawken didn’t even have a degree.  He also couldn’t even understand the business jargon about his own business from the research papers.  “I couldn’t read the balance sheet!”  exclaimed Hawken.  Despite his lack of business acumen, Hawken pursued the business anyway.

“What carried the business wasn't knowledge, wasn't capital, but that people believed in it.  If that core passion belief isn't there, it is very difficult to make it.  If you are going into business to make money, I wish you the best, but you are probably not going to do well,”  said Hawken.

It’s okay to fail
When we think of failure, we may usually think of it as a negative thing.  But to an entrepreneur and to the marketplace, failure is a key moment.

Being bold doesn’t always equate to success, it may lead to failure.  But Hawken urges to be bold anyway, “If you go into business and make an incremental improvement on what is out there, don't.  That's not what you want to do.  You gotta do something.  You can fail.  Failure isn't the point. Be bold, go where it's not happening.”

We need failure, we learn from failure, and we need more failure.  The sustainable solutions an entrepreneur has in mind may or may not succeed.  The fastest way to solve a problem is to try it out and see if it works.  “We need rapid iteration, which means we need rapid failure,”  says Hawken.

What lights you up?
At the end of his talk, Hawken suggested this, “Do something that lights you up!”

So, what lights you up?   What are the failures you have had that we can learn from you?  What are the bold ideas that you have?


Image Credit: Sustainable Industries