Funding. Ideas. Talent. Resources. All of these are great assets to have if you want to be a success, but what is the one thing you’ll need if you want to truly change the world?

We get to learn a lot about what makes a successful social entrepreneur around here at Change Creator. After hundreds of interviews for the podcast, magazine, and blog, we’ve learned a little about what kind of individual qualities it takes to make a go of any kind of business.

You may think that you could predict someone’s future on the amount of funding they get in the seed rounds, or the validity of their idea. Perhaps? In my opinion and from the years I’ve studied other successful entrepreneurs, this just isn’t the case. Many really good, validated ideas never make it to the marketplace. Many awesome companies get millions of seed funding but don’t survive the next year. It isn’t the resources, the ideas, even the talent or skill of the entrepreneur that predicts future success. What is it then?

The ability to handle setbacks.

How you handle setbacks as an entrepreneur, more than anything, is the number one predictor of future success. Let’s explore.

How You Handle Setbacks Determines How You Handle Everything in Business and Life

Not one successful person hasn’t had a door slam in their face. Or failed attempt at a patent. Or failed a business. Failure and mistakes are part of growth. That’s just the way it is.

It can be tough to wrap your head around this when you are super passionate about your mission as a social entrepreneur. If you are in this to change something, help somebody, then when something goes wrong, it can be a crushing blow. But, my friends. It doesn’t have to be the end.

Every failure is another opportunity to learn something.

Ughhh. I know many of you have heard this in some way or another. Yes, we know Amy. You can learn from your failures. But what does this really mean? While I don’t want to gloss over the heartache and disappointment a failed project, plan, or outcome has, if we look at this from a logical perspective, we might just have a different outlook.

We could all learn something from Jacob Barnett…

A few years ago when my son was little, I got to meet an extraordinary pair, Kristine Barnett, and her son Jacob. Jacob Barnett by all accounts a true genius. His mom wrote about his autism, and unique gifts in the book, The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing, Genius, and Autism which I had read several times. I could really relate to this mother’s tenacity to not only help her son but find a way to make him thrive in life. That kind of parenting is quite inspirational. I knew that I could learn a lot from Kristine Barnett, but what I didn’t realize is that I received one of the greatest lessons about success from Jacob Barnett himself.

What did he teach me?

Jacob is one of the youngest people ever to study Theoretical Physics at the esteemed Perimeter Institute at the University of Waterloo. His mind is beyond special and so is his understanding of how great achievements are discovered. While he is not interested in making small talk of any kind, he lit up like a Christmas tree when I asked him, over a Starbucks one afternoon, about what he was studying. I don’t confess to know much about what he explained to me that day. He could talk theories and theorems until my ears bled, I did ask him one question about his work and the answer knocked me to my core.

I asked, “How does it feel when you’ve spent months, if not years of your life researching a theory, only to find out that your thesis was wrong?”

His answer (and I’m paraphrasing quite a bit here, but pay attention):

“I don’t see how discovering what doesn’t work as failing. I have just found one more way that doesn’t work, so I’m that much closer to finding the solution that will.”

That floored me.

He actually took great pleasure in disproving his own theories so he could get closer to the discovery. This is the kind of thinking that changes everything we know about humankind. This ability to fail as many times as necessary is what leads to success. Take it from me, Jacob Barnett is rewriting human history, one failed theory at a time.

Where does it leave us, as social entrepreneurs?

If you are willing to figure out what works, and most importantly, what doesn’t work, you will succeed. Many people simply give up when their grand ideas don’t pan out, instead of choosing to see that as simply part of the process. As a business owner and creative myself, I don’t hit it out of the park the first time for every client. I have to reevaluate my processes, my work all the time, but that’s the difference between us change creators, and those who simply give up when they fall.