In Pursuit of Failure
At Denver Startup Week, Daniels professor preaches learning by doing — doing it wrong, that is
While entrepreneurs scramble to find the next big idea that will work, associate marketing professor Rosanna Garcia prefers to focus on the things that don’t. Garcia, who holds the Walter Koch Endowed Chair of Entrepreneurship in the Daniels College of Business, is an expert on “resistant innovation.” In other words, she studies the things that turn consumers off.
On Sept. 26, she was in front of an audience for Denver Startup Week, delivering a lecture on how to develop a product that is efficient and effective, as well as popular with consumers and sustainable for the environment.
After her lecture, Garcia hopped on a bus to her next engagement and answered a few questions from the DU Newsroom. (Note: Some answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.)
You introduced yourself today as someone who studies why things don’t work. How did that become your interest?
My philosophy — and I believe the philosophy at Daniels — is that I encourage my students to fail. It’s true that in failure you learn so much more. It’s a puzzle. And the very first puzzle I wanted to figure out was looking at why do American wineries not use screw caps [instead of cork]? And why won't consumers adopt the screw cap? That was like a new puzzle to me. And that’s how my research started forming around these puzzles and why people don't do what we think.
Are businesses thinking this way: What am I doing wrong instead of what can I do right?
No, they don’t. I think we do live in a society where it’s not OK to fail. That’s actually what I like about entrepreneurship: It is OK to fail and that’s what investors will often look for. They ask: How many failures did you have before this one? You have to have learned along the way, and this is not your first time out of the gate, so you know what the reality is.
But of course you can’t fail all the time.
No. Not continually. But having that one or two out of the gate and you succeed better if you fail and it won't be held against you.
What’s standing in the way of a culture that celebrates failure?
Our biggest thing is time. We’re a capitalist economy, and that’s my greatest concern, actually, for what we teach in business schools, what the perspective is. As soon as business schools start changing that perspective, that’s when we’ll start to see changes.
[This] is what I love about sustainability: Sustainability says we can’t be just profit-driven. We have to have that triple bottom line [meaning an equal focus on profit, people and planet]. Many resources are not renewable, and if a firm doesn’t think about that, it’s not going to be around in 100 years. If they want something to be around in 100 years, start designing that now. Firms need to think that way.
How would you evaluate the state of entrepreneurship in Denver?
It’s growing. It’s hopping. It’s an exciting time for our startups here in Denver, and that’s just because of the growth of the region. I think companies, not just startups, are seeing that growth that is happening, so they’re coming to Denver also. Catalyst HTI is an example. You have companies that are interacting with startups, and that’s really helping to drive things. It’s not just a startup company, but it’s a broader mindset of sharing technologies and working together.
What else are you working on right now?
There is a large underrepresented population in entrepreneurship. Women are a big part of that. Minorities are a big part of that, and it’s really important to know that entrepreneurship is open to everybody.
The research I’m doing right now happens to be on entrepreneurship in women. When I was working with women, they told me they don’t identify as entrepreneurs. They identify as business owners and they do tend to have smaller companies with fewer employees. And I think the business schools are doing a disservice by selling “entrepreneurship programs,” because [women] are not relating to entrepreneurship. They’re business owners. Just make it clear and knowing.