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Nandan Nilekani on failure and the key lesson he learnt from his own

Nandan Nilekani gets candid about failure in an exclusive interview with YourStory Founder and CEO Shradha Sharma. The Aadhaar architect says his own failures have taught him that it’s important to attempt something new, provided one does not venture too far from one’s core competencies.

Nandan Nilekani on failure and the key lesson he learnt from his own

Friday September 20, 2019 , 3 min Read

For entrepreneurs, the fear of failure is ever-present. The fear of losing clients, the fear of not being able to raise enough funds on time, the fear of loss of self-esteem… and the list goes on. The many sources of fear in the world of startups and entrepreneurship have been widely acknowledged and studied.

But even the most accomplished leaders are no strangers to failure -- something even the likes of Infosys Co-founder and Aadhaar architect Nandan Nilekani have known. And yet, the key to overcoming failure, Nandan says, is to fail fast, learn from one’s experience, and move on.

“I think failure can be extremely stressful. And, I think if we are too caught up in it, then it becomes even more difficult to deal with… so I think if you fail, you should analyse why you failed, take the lesson, and move on,” Nandan says.

Watch Nandan Nilekani in an exclusive conversation with YourStory Founder and CEO Shradha Sharma:

Nandan Nilekani says he encountered failure twice in life: once in 2014, when he stood for the Lok Sabha elections and lost, and the other, in the 80’s, when Infosys decided to diversify into hardware from software. Both instances taught him one common lesson: take risks but never steer too far from your core competencies.

“I think both these failures, my political failure (and the hardware move), taught me a lesson that while it's good to try out new things, you must also not try out something just so radically different from what you do that you don't have the strengths in that arena. In both the cases of failure that I experienced, it was because I didn't have the core competence to do that function properly,” Nandan says.

Nandan, who, in 2014, contested on the Congress party’s ticket from the South Bangalore Lok Sabha constituency and lost, has publicly said that standing for elections was a “big mistake” he made.

A lesser-known fact is that during the 80s, Indian IT giant Infosys had tried, rather unsuccessfully, to diversify into the hardware space from its core competency of software and services.

At the time, Nandan served as the first managing director of the hardware division before Kris Gopalakrishnan took over from him in running the unit.

The impact of failure can be devastating, admits Nandan, but he adds that it’s important to take the necessary step of moving on from one’s failure.

“Even when I when I lost my election, I was quite dismayed. I was quite depressed for some time, but I think I quickly said, ‘let me move on’. That’s when I moved on, and I got into investing in startups, launched EkStep, and I did a lot of other things. So, I think that if you fail, you should analyse why you failed, take the lesson, and move on.”