Entrepreneurship is not about success at all costs

As entrepreneurs or as aspiring entrepreneurs, we all have pressure to succeed. Given many of us gave up dependable, rewarding careers to do our own thing, it’s a burden that can weigh heavy at times.

There’s a story out of Japan that’s a good reminder not to lose sight of what’s important: creating real value and not just the perception of it; the satisfaction of a job well done and not the pursuit of celebration and admiration.

That story is disgraced researcher Haruko Obotaka, who earlier this year claimed she discovered so-called STAP cells that can grow into any tissue in the body. For example, it could grow new human organs for sick or injured people who need them. If true, STAP cells would have been game changing for all humanity.

It was the kind of discovery on par with Louis Pasteur and vaccination — and coming from such a young, relatively attractive woman too. And so, unsurprisingly, Obotaka became an instant celebrity and national hero in Japan.

Unfortunately, nobody else could replicate Obotaka’s results. Subsequent investigations by Japanese research institute Riken concluded that Obotaka had plagiarized and fabricated parts of her research.

In manipulating the image data of two different gels and using data from two different experiments, Dr. Obokata acted in a manner that can by no means be permitted. This cannot be explained solely by her immaturity as a researcher. Given the poor quality of her laboratory notes it has become clearly evident that it will be extremely difficult for anyone else to accurately trace or understand her experiments, and this, too, is considered a serious obstacle to healthy information exchange. Dr. Obokata’s actions and sloppy data management lead us to the conclusion that she sorely lacks, not only a sense of research ethics, but also integrity and humility as a scientific researcher.

On August, Obotaka’s supervisor Yoshiki Sasai hanged himself after months of stress and exhaustion from the scandal.

Obotaka was insistent that STAP cells do exist and, under close watch, tried as well to replicate her earlier discovery. Of course, she could not, and so earlier this week announced her “resignation.”

Obotaka’s story is a reminder that it’s never worth taking shortcuts. It’s better to live a difficult life of harsh truths than an easy one of paper thin lies. It’s better to accept failure than to fabricate success.

You have to believe that you will eventually make it — one step at a time — and even if you don’t, at least there’s the integrity of the journey itself to appreciate.

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