Why Americans believe that failure is a good thing

New ways of thinking, bad fashion, astronauts, aircraft and aliens
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The Independent Online

I was recently selected as one of three people in Britain to spend the summer at a rather interesting institution called Singularity University in the heart of Silicon Valley, California. I am one week into the programme and am already sleep-deprived. It has been the craziest week of my life.

The idea behind Singularity University (only America would think up a name like that) is to bring together the top 80 future leaders from around the world and solve all of the universe's problems by using disruptive technologies such as robotics and nanotech. We are exposed to some insane technologies and are taught by a ton of business leaders including Google's co-founder, Larry Page. I feel like a child for two reasons: first, I am 22 and one of the youngest on the programme. Second, they've let us run wild at the Ames' Nasa Research Park and we're getting incredibly excited. They've said to us that if we cross the black gate, we'll get shot – yet they expect us to believe that there are no aliens on this US government property.

Despite the constant noise from the military aircraft causing me to suffer sleep deprivation, I am actually in love with this place. I'm a technology entrepreneur at heart, having launched my first internet company at the age of 14. Yet I don't feel that special here, as everyone seems to be running a start-up. Many of the students in my class hold multiple PhDs and nearly three-quarters have launched a successful company. Google HQ is down the road and humans in this town are uber-nerdy. A few nights ago, for example, I was in a secret meeting with some crazy scientists/students who were discussing ways to upload the human mind to a computer.

I have also observed some interesting phenomena about the Americans, and I'm going to share some of this with you. They love the British accent. They think we suck at soccer. They have no fashion sense. They are friendly. They believe in failure.

On the subject of the British accent, Dan Barry, a former Nasa astronaut, gave a fascinating lecture recently on how the body adapts in space. Well, I've found that my body has made an equally fascinating and useful adaptation back here on Earth – the way I speak is more British than ever. I don't quite understand this, but people go mad when I speak. I have been described as articulate, charming and sophisticated. I urge all you postgraduate students out there with an accent to fly over here and conduct similar experiments.

They think we suck at soccer: I campaigned very hard for the faculty to give us a break during lectures so that we could watch the World Cup. They finally caved in... but I don't really wish to comment on my recent experience, so I'll skip this one altogether.

They have no fashion sense: honestly, the local Californians don't really seem to pay much attention to what they wear. Medium-length white socks, beige shorts and a very bright T-shirt is not "swagger". However, I noticed that some of the most loaded people wear some of the most outrageous clothes. At our opening ceremony, we were in formal clothing while the billionaires couldn't care less about the dress policy.

They are friendly: London has to be one of the most depressing places in the world. There is an unspoken rule that you must not talk on the London transport system, let alone make eye contact with anyone. Here, people actually say hello even if they don't know you. This is convenient if you have an accent and can smile without looking like a creep.

They believe in failure: perhaps, the most shocking thing that I have learned here is that people view failure as a good thing: to be successful, you need to fail several times, they believe. I think this is one of the biggest reasons why so many people here run their own business and make a lot of money. They have the guts to take risks. I've been promoting student entrepreneurship throughout the UK for years and am almost disillusioned with the fact that our nation is so fearful of change. Students, this is honestly the best time to launch a business, so get out there and just do it! With this in mind, I'm going to get some sleep. Enjoy the weather – I know I will.

The writer is a part-time student on UCL's MSc in technology entrepreneurship

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