7 Ways to Fail Your Way to Success

When we think about success, failure isn’t the word that usually comes to mind. And yet, success rarely happens without multiple failures along the way.


Most people we would consider to be highly successful have failed while climbing the ladder of success. We will always remember Steve Jobs for product blockbusters like the Mac Computer, iPad, iPod, Apple TV and the iPhone. What we don’t associate with Steve Jobs are the products that failed: Newton; Apple Lisa; NeXT; Apple III; Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh; Mac G4 Cube and MobileMe.

Abraham Lincoln ran for just about every possible office – and lost – before he was elected President. Lincoln once commented about his failures, “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.”

Steven Spielberg, one of the wealthiest and most influential movie makers in Hollywood, became an A List director after Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. But Spielberg was rejected from attending movie school three times before moving on to another school and then dropping out to become a director. About failure, Spielberg stated, “Failure is inevitable. Success is elusive.”

Michael Jordan, maybe the greatest basketball player of all time, was cut from his varsity team at Laney High School in Wilmington, NC. In the NBA, Jordan went on to miss more than 9,000 shots and lost over 300 games. Twenty-six times he was entrusted to take the last shot and win the game…but missed. But when asked about failure in his famous Nike commercial, Jordan said, “I have failed over and over, and that is why I succeed.”

Jordan is right; the opposite of success isn’t failure. The opposite of success is not trying. If you seldom fail, there’s a good chance you are playing it too safe or not trying to innovate and excel. J.K. Rowling became one of the wealthiest people in the world with the Harry Potter series. Rowling stated, “It’s impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all.”


The following seven tips will help you to push the envelope of failure and truly be the leader who can lead your team to be one of the most admired in your company or industry.


Outlearn your competition:  If your goal is to be a leader, you need to remember leaders are out in front. You will need to be thinking about and learning new ways to do things. Maybe it will be to improve a process, provide even higher levels of service to customers, or introduce a new product. Think, learn, and then put the outcome of what you have learned into action. Action will turn your vision into a reality and can potentially change the world.


Be willing to take a risk: Figuring out new things and finding what will work or not work is fun. But, you need to be willing to take a risk and grow both knowledge and passion from the experience.


Create and Innovate: To create and innovate, you need to set aside time to think. If you spend all your time doing tasks that take little thought and hold a high chance of success and accomplishment, you leave very little of your time to be creative and strategically think. Creation and innovation means change. With change, there is a good chance that some of those changes will lead to failure.


Fail faster and more often: Google Research Director, Peter Norvig, when asked about failure at Google said, “We do it by trying to fail faster and smaller. The average cycle for getting something done at Google is more like three months than three years. And the average team size is small, so if we have a new idea, we don’t have to go through the political lobbying of saying, “Can we have 50 people to work on this?” This is such a great point. If you set a goal to fail more often and faster, there’s a good chance that the potential impacts of failure won’t be all that negative.


Be resilient…fall forward: Unless you are lucky and everything thing you do and touch turns to gold, you will encounter failure in your life. When you ask successful people about adversity, most times they will tell you that it is the adversity and failure that has propelled them to success. Tom Hopkins, the great sales trainer said it best, “I never see failure as failure but only as the negative feedback I need to change my course of direction.” Make a note about what you learned, get excited, and move forward quickly.


Have a sense of humor: If you have the ability to laugh at yourself and your failures, you will create an environment where others will be comfortable making a mistake or trying something that might not work.


Celebrate success and failure: Celebrating success is easy. Celebrating what didn’t work takes guts. In fact, most leaders think that the best way to handle someone else’s failure is to not say anything about it. But, when a leader has the guts to say, “I wanted to bring some special recognition to Sandy in today’s meeting. A lot of you know that Sandy spent the last month developing a new process for our software. We implemented it last week and many of you know it didn’t work as planned. But, I want to recognize Sandy for three reasons. First, she had a vision to improve our system. Second, she had the guts to try a new idea that we had no guarantee would work. And last, after it failed, she came into my office and said, “I’m not giving up. It didn’t work this way but there has to be a way that will be significantly more efficient for us to operate.” Sandy, you make me proud and let me know what else you need from me or the team to make this work.”


Putting these seven tips into action will help you be a leader who encourages growth and rewards failure when team members are willing to try new things. Failure can be seen as a bad thing until you understand that the people who have been wildly successful just failed more often than people who played it safe. To rise to a level of greatness, you cannot see failure as failure; it is merely an opportunity to find even better ways to do things.



(1) Comment

  1. Great insights. Our hyper competitive culture dis incentivizes people from taking risks. I hope some of your posts will cover that

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