Why the French don’t Fail… and why it’s a Problem

Charles Pépin wants France to embrace failure.

The latest must-have book in France right now is not a novel, but an essay on failure. Though the French may fear failure, Charles Pépin, French writer, journalist, and philosopher, is making a case for it in his latest publication Les Vertus de l’Échec (The Virtues of Failure).

According to Pépin, failures make us grow, progress, and learn. In French culture (and many other places in Europe), the tendency is to equate having failed with being a failure. This mentality us reflected everywhere, from school to professional life.

The US, on the other hand, is known for tolerance of entrepreneurial failures. In Silicon Valley, the unofficial motto is “fail fast, fail often”. Failure is considered a valuable learning experience that creates the opportunity for better success. In Europe, the idea of failure is surrounded by shame, which has led to entrepreneurism being discouraged. Consequently, the startup scene is growing notably slower in Europe than in the states.

In his book, Pépin gives examples of well-known successful people who experienced failures that contributed to their eventual success, like Thomas Edison, Charles Darwin, Roger Federer, General de Gaulle, and Serge Gainsbourg.

Pépin maintains that not every failure is interesting, but those that allow us to develop certain strengths should be considered valuable. For Pépin, it’s better to fail in an intelligent manner, rather than to succeed within a broken system.

While the French are ambitious, the stigma around failure is holding new businesses back. Perhaps this book will help to generate a different perspective on failure for the French, one that will encourage taking business risks and learning from past mistakes in order to create a better business or product.

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