Being a failure can help you be successful

Do you think you failed? Think again. Whenever you think this can’t possibly be true, remember what Winston Churchill said: “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

What the great man meant, of course, is that failure is likely to block your path to success, so you’d better learn to handle it and move on.

Think of all the great achievements in history – discovering new worlds, climbing the highest mountains, breaking speed and altitude records – all the great inventions and creations over the centuries suffered one setback after another.

Yet the people involved never gave up.

What’s so positive about failure?

When it happens to you, it’s tough to find anything good to say about the experience. Your instinct is to simply hide your shame and try to pretend it didn’t happen.

After any great disaster or failure, you’ll hear government ministers say, “Going forward, we’ll apply the lessons learned to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

From the mouths of politicians, these are mostly empty words, but they contain a grain of common sense: a failure is not an isolated event in your life. You have failed before and, if you’re pursuing excellence, you will fail again.

Study your failures as closely as your successes

Don’t hide away from your failures, however tempting it might be.
Don’t hide away from your failures, however tempting it might be.

Look for the reasons for failure. Was the research inadequate? Was something not right with the product? Was the team behind it too small, ill-equipped, poorly briefed or lacking vital experience?

If it was innovation you were pursuing, were you too slow to market, did you have insufficient differentiation from competitors, was your marketing off track?

Don’t hide away from things that don’t go as planned. You could, like Canada’s Engineers Without Borders (EWB), even publish an Annual Failure Report. This enlightened and innovative NGO has been publishing one every year for nine years.

This is how they describe it:

“The Engineers Without Borders Failure Report is now in its ninth year of production. It serves to make transparent some of the failures experienced at all levels of the organization, both at home and abroad.

“In this year’s edition, eleven stories…offer insight into individual and systemic failures that occurred over the previous year, and lessons learned from each case.

“It is our hope that our readers – you – may gain inspiration from the stories and learn how to identify failures in your team, and also better appreciate the thought process behind identifying root causes as the first step to fixing them.”

Every expert on failure recognizes that it is inevitable. If you don’t fail fairly regularly, you’re not trying hard enough to break new ground.

Learn to celebrate your failures

This advice comes from business writer, author and teacher Mridu Khullar Relph:

“Every time you’ve made an effort and taken a risk, reward yourself. Celebrate the fact that you stepped outside your comfort zone and did something challenging.”

Failures occur in all human activity. In business, sport, the arts, politics – you name it, there has been a history of one failure after another.

Think about the science community. How many failed tests and experiments do you think it takes just to bring one new piece of technology from an idea to reality? Scientists embrace failure because they recognize that even science isn’t an exact science!

Thomas Edison, inventor of the common light bulb went through 10,000 versions of his idea before he found one that could be commercially successful. He described the experience not as a failure, in fact as a discovery. He said, “I’ve not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways it won’t work.”

Professor Sebastian Thrun is a scientist too. When he was a vice president at Google, he founded Google X, a research and development facility.

Edison tried 10,000 times before he made a saleable light bulb - was that 10,000 failures?
Edison tried 10,000 times before he made a saleable light bulb – was that 10,000 failures?

He also led Google’s driverless car programme. Can you imagine how many failures he and his team endured before they made any real progress?

Here’s what he said:

“It’s important to celebrate your failures as much as your successes. If you celebrate your failures really well, and if you get to the motto and say, ‘Wow, I failed, I tried, I was wrong, I learned something,’ then you realize you have no fear, and when your fear goes away, you can move the world.”

Professor Sebastian Thrun

Move the world? You can’t fail to be impressed by his optimism.

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