Is Failure One Secret to Success?

When was the last time you read a case study about abject failure? When you scroll through the leadership blogs and business publications, how many “lack of success” stories do you skim? It’s true, we relish stories of underdogs, but we don’t get caught up in the unsuccessful parts of those stories for very long. We’re eager to read about the win. Whether it’s our own tale or someone else’s, we want to tune in and focus on the sizzle reel of high points. Yet the value of that tale may not lie in the finish line. There is value in the stumbles and the missteps. Why?

Failure is inevitable, and that’s good, because failure is valuable. 

Yes. You read that right. Let’s talk about those case studies again. The elements of these tales that will benefit you most are the parts that cover adversity and the problem-solving that took place to push through those challenges. Simply reading, “She had an idea. She succeeded” is a nice pat on the back. The value lies in, “She had an idea. She tried Plan A to bring it to fruition. It didn’t work. She adapted and tried this. She tweaked it again and tried that. She was successful.” This is the story we need to read. 

You Will Fail

Let’s get this one out of the way right up front. If you are dreaming, stretching, and working to achieve your goals, you will fail at some point along the way. There will be setbacks. You’ll need to readjust your plans. You may need to hit pause on progress while you take some time to learn a skill you didn’t know you’d need. If you’re stretching and challenging yourself, it won’t always be smooth sailing as you reach for your goals. That’s good. It means you’re growing. Embrace those challenges, learn from them, and leap forward. 

You Will Learn

You’ve heard it before, right? Learn from your mistakes. It’s not a trite adage designed to make us feel better about fumbling the ball. It’s wisdom that is passed on from person to person for good reason. If we’re willing to evaluate what went wrong, we can learn from it. We can identify gaps in skills and resources and make a plan to address those before we press ahead again. We may learn that this particular path isn’t the right one for us at this time. If we are a student of our failures, we can take those lessons to navigate a more successful path the next time we venture out to succeed. 

You Will Rebound 

Michael Jordan is one of the most successful basketball players to play the game at a professional level. No one would argue that. Yet he once spoke about missing over 9,000 game shots (including a few dozen potential game-winners). Jordan was quoted as saying, “I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that's why I succeed." There’s another stat that should be noted: In his career, Michael Jordan also had nearly 6,700 rebounds. That’s 6,700 opportunities to grab a ball that someone didn’t sink and try again. Be like Jordan. Miss your goal? Pick up the ball and try again.

You Will Be in Good Company

It took the Beatles two years of practice and performing before they landed their first recording contract audition. Decca Records passed on the band. Reed Hastings set out to create a service that allowed individuals to rent movies by mail. His business, Netflix, began with a pay-per-rental business model and it was a flop. Instead of giving up, he revamped his business model as a subscription service. His business has evolved several times since to keep up with market demands and preferences. Oprah Winfrey was once told she was “not right” for television. You get the point. 

These very successful individuals met with failure. They didn’t let that be the end of their story. They learned from the fumble. They got creative in their approach. They tried again and they kept trying until they got it right. And they didn’t stop there. They continued to refine their work as their market looked for something different – armed with the lessons of the past and present.