How many times do you hear a friend or trusted colleague say to you “It’s OK to fail. You don’t lose, you learn”.
They are fine words, but may not seem very empathetic at the time because it is always easier said than done.
Failure is meant to expand our knowledge and increase our understanding. Often, the failure gives us an opportunity to learn from those mistakes.
Thomas Edison’s memorable invention was the incandescent light bulb. In 1878, Edison began working on a system of electrical illumination. But it took him over 1,000 attempts before a successful prototype could be developed.
And it is said that he never saw his earlier efforts as failures, but rather as 1,000 steps to success.
There are some companies today who see these ‘veterans of failure’ as possessing skills such as determination and perseverance. Skills such as these cannot be learnt from a book and have to be experienced, so that this learning can then be passed on to others notwithstanding these are skills outside their comfort zone.
So, instead of shying away from failure, these companies actively embrace it. There is a school of thought, within companies such as Virgin Atlantic, that success can depend on taking risks, and failure is quite simply one outcome that managers — instead of bemoaning their mistakes — turn into opportunities for future gains.
When we think of people with such a mindset, we visualise the risk-takers, the discoverers, the inventors, and the explorers. They embrace failure as a necessary step to the achievement of eventual success.
Failure can also be an effective way of strengthening resilience. The chances are that when things are going well, you can become complacent. However, failure can help you think more creatively, by thinking ‘outside the box’ and steering clear from the conventional way of doing things.
All of which can lead to greater initiative and innovation and, therefore, increased productivity.
As painful as failure is, it can also be character-forming. Failure shows that we are not infallible and even though we might pride ourselves on perfection, the reality is different.
This concept of perfectionism can be very restrictive and it can be very liberating when we learn that is OK to fail in the knowledge that we all have the capability to bounce back.
I remember my schoolteacher, John Spector, saying to me, “Failure brings with it priceless lessons and, if you never fail, you will never learn” … and they have held me in good stead in both my personal life and business career.
Failure is not there to break you, although it is easy to get stuck in ‘failure mode’ and, when you do, the chances are that your strengths and weaknesses will become apparent and you may even gain a greater understanding of yourself.
Success is usually not possible without some failures. They both go hand in hand. Our mistakes can be the gateway to our success.
However, many only remember their successes, whereas others will only remember the pain of failure and give up at the first hurdle and so never achieve the desired success.
The quickest road to success is to have a ‘no fear’ attitude towards failure.
For companies to maintain their competitive edge and achieve sustainable success, it can be important for them to develop this ‘no fear’ attitude and encourage innovation and creativity so as to deliver proactive, edgy proposals without fear of failure, retribution or rejection if they prove to be unsuccessful.
We live in a society wherein we are all but required to focus on just one thing — success. But as we have seen, success is often only possible with some failure.
Let us not forget Thomas Edison’s words — “I have not failed, not once. I have just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.”
* Success and failure are two sides of the same coin
* Regard your failures as steps to success
* Learning should always come from mistakes