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What It Takes to Build Beyond Yourself



A reflection on learnings from guest speaker, Tony Fadell—iPod inventor, iPhone co-inventor, Nest founder, Build Collective principal, and author of The Wall Street Journal and New York Times bestseller BUILD: An Unorthodox Guide to Making Things Worth Making.

Executive Summary

This article discusses the importance of both hard skills and soft skills in entrepreneurship and personal development. It emphasizes the need to balance technical expertise with interpersonal abilities and highlights the role of failure in cultivating these skills. The education system's approach to failure is criticized, and the article argues for a shift towards encouraging learning from mistakes. The benefits of failure in problem-solving, communication, teamwork, and resilience are explored through personal experiences and examples from successful entrepreneurs like Tony Fadell. The article concludes by emphasizing the value of failure in the pursuit of entrepreneurship and personal growth.

The Significance of Hard and Soft Skills

Tony Fadell recently highlighted the importance of both hard skills and soft skills in the pursuit of entrepreneurship during our Oceanside Chat Season 2 Finale. Hard skills are concrete, measurable skills that are specific to your field. Be it coding or drawing, you need to be proficient at what you do for people to trust and collaborate with you. However, there is more to being successful than just technical capabilities—soft skills are all too often overlooked. Not only do we need objective experience, but we also need insight into how to interact with others, solve problems, work well in a team, and rebound from setbacks. These less quantifiable abilities characterize the concept of soft skills, and they are essential for success in both our personal and professional lives. One must learn to balance both hard and soft skills, often within the same task or stressor. Thankfully, we have the opportunity to develop these important soft skills by growing through the discomfort found in failure.

The Education System and Failure

One significant hurdle on this path of growing by doing is the education system, its relentless punishments for failure, and a lack of opportunity to actually learn. You are taught some course material, tested on it, and if you fail, there is often nothing you can do to change that outcome—a permanent mark is left on your record. At first glance, this may seem customary and practical, and each person has a different definition of failure or being “unsuccessful in achieving one’s goal.” But a soccer player doesn’t try to score a goal only once. We shouldn’t shy away from failure, but rather encourage and reinforce it as a necessary step for development. The real world doesn’t operate like the education system does. If an apprentice welder isn’t able to solder correctly the first time, are they stopped and told, “You tried once and failed, and that's all you get”? No, they are continuously provided opportunities to keep practicing until they are proficient or even an expert at it, because their eventual customers would and should expect nothing less. The same idea should apply to most things we learn. How can we grow if we aren’t given the chance to? Being successful in the long run may require you to be unsuccessful in the short run.

Being successful in the long run may require you to be unsuccessful in the short run.

Analyzing Mistakes and Problem-Solving

Failure is a valuable learning experience that enables us to analyze our mistakes and effectively solve problems. By reflecting on what went wrong and devising a plan to address the issues, we can sharpen our problem-solving skills and overcome future challenges.

Every student has had that sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach when their hard work didn't pay off, resulting in a poor grade. Fortunately, some professors offer a chance to revise and improve, as I experienced in a recent business course project. Despite my initial confidence in the project, I received harsh feedback from my professor, which left me feeling discouraged. However, instead of dwelling on the negativity, I chose to view the critique as a valuable lesson. I went back to the drawing board, analyzed the feedback, and used it as a guide to make the necessary adjustments. When my team presented the revised project, our efforts paid off, and we ended up winning an award. This experience serves as a testament to the benefits of learning from failure.

When we encounter failure, it presents us with an opportunity to analyze our mistakes and develop effective problem-solving strategies. Through reflection, we can gain valuable insights into what went wrong, identify patterns, and understand the underlying factors that contributed to the unfavorable outcome. This process of trial and error, learning from mistakes, and refining our strategy is precisely the kind of mindset and approach that K-12 education should encourage.

Developing Communication and Teamwork Skills

Additionally, failure can help develop communication and teamwork skills. When we fail at something, it can be tempting to blame others or make excuses for ourselves. However, taking responsibility for our mistakes and openly communicating about what went wrong can help us build trust and strengthen relationships.

For example, during group projects, I used to always want to do everything by myself. I would often lack trust in others and bear the workload all by myself. That was until I started working in a professional team environment. By trying to manage everything myself, I would oftentimes miss deadlines, and the quality of my work would fall short. Through experience and communicating with my team members, I understood the importance of sharing workload and leveraging collaboration to create more open conversations. I started reaching out when I needed help, sharing responsibilities, and working with others to deliver projects. After learning to be honest and supportive of my teammates through our failures, I was able to improve my teamwork skills and ultimately achieve greater success as an individual.

Building Resilience

Lastly, failure helps us become resilient. It's natural to feel discouraged when we fail, but it's important to remember that failure is a normal part of life. As a third-year university student, I recently began applying to countless internships. I remember that after my first interview, I received that rejection email we all know too well: "Unfortunately, we've decided to move forward with other candidates." That first one felt the worst, but after each subsequent rejection it started to sting a little less every time, until eventually, it didn't phase me at all. Rather than being discouraged and giving up, I continued to face rejections and persevered till I started getting offers. Many times in life, things aren't going to go our way, and if we don't become resilient to failure, we'll never push past the hardships that life throws at us.

Tony Fadell is often praised for his successes in creating the iPod and iPhone, but not many people talk about his failures. Before he worked at Apple, he tried to invent similar products at three different companies, all of which failed. Before founding his successful startup, Nest Labs, he had established five other markedly less successful companies; it wasn't until his sixth venture that he created something worth building. He learned to bounce back from loss and persevere despite great challenges and many setbacks. This developed within Tony the kind of resilience he needed to learn from his mistakes, which ultimately helped him succeed in building something truly significant.

Embracing Failure: The Key to Developing Essential Soft Skills and Entrepreneurial Mindset

It’s essential for students to be taught the value of failure and how it is a natural piece of the learning process. Instead of punishing students for failing, the education system should encourage and support them as they learn from their mistakes and develop important soft skills. One major misconception that people have about themselves is that they’re not suited to become an entrepreneur. However, becoming an entrepreneur is not about having a great idea or access to capital. It’s about accepting, even embracing failure, as a means to grow. This requires having the right set of soft skills, or interpersonal skills that will help you navigate the challenges of starting and running a business. So don’t feel discouraged when things don’t end up the way you want them to. After all, Tony says in his book, Build: An Unorthodox Guide to Making Things Worth Making, that “Throwing yourself out there and having everything blow up in your face is the world’s best way to learn fast and figure out what you want to do next.” For Tony, failure was the first step toward his success. And for young professionals and entrepreneurs who are trying to make a difference in this world, that is the first step to building beyond ourselves.

Guest Speaker's Bio

Tony Fadell is an active investor and entrepreneur with a 30+ year history of founding companies and designing products that profoundly improve people’s lives.

He is the Principal at Build Collective, formerly known as Future Shape, which is an investment and advisory firm coaching deep tech startups. Currently, Build Collective is coaching over 200+ startups innovating game-changing technologies.

He is the founder and former CEO of Nest, the company that pioneered the “Internet of Things.” Tony was the SVP of Apple’s iPod Division and led the team that created the first 18 generations of the iPod and the first three generations of the iPhone.

Throughout his career, Tony has authored more than 300 patents. In May 2016, TIME named the Nest Learning Thermostat, the iPod, and the iPhone as three of the “50 Most Influential Gadgets of All Time. He is a New York Times and The Wall Street Journal bestselling author of BUILD: An Unorthodox Guide to Making Things Worth Making.

Author's Bio

Edward Jin is a dedicated Business Economics student at the University of California, San Diego with a strong interest in technology and its potential for driving positive change. He actively collaborates with multiple startups, leveraging his passion for innovation to make a meaningful impact. Edward was recently chosen by the Executive Director of the Rady School of Management to participate in the Venture Fellows MBA Program, despite being an undergraduate student. With a focus on marketing and communications, Edward has gained valuable experience as a Marketing Intern for, a B2B Edtech startup, where he led end-to-end marketing campaigns, developed SEO-optimized content, engaged in sales calls, managed CRM, etc. He has also contributed to the growth of Oceanside Perspective as a Marketing Communications Intern, coordinating promotional material distribution and introducing successful promotional initiatives. Edward's drive, academic excellence, and entrepreneurial mindset position him to make a significant impact in the business and technology sectors.

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