Failure is Rarely Fatal

I don’t come across many people who don’t fear failure. The truth is the more I discover about people who have had extraordinary success the more I find people who have had to go through many failures to get there. It seems that, in order to succeed you need to adopt the view that failure is not fatal.

What do you think might be behind your fear of failure?

To understand any fear of failure you need to understand where it comes from. For me it comes from wanting my tangible reality to be an exact copy of the vision I have in my mind, and fear that the failure may be painful. Perfectionism can translate into paralysis because what you create might not be perfect.

“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” – Denis Waitley

You may have heard of James Dyson the inventor of the cyclonic vacuum cleaner. He is a true believer in the concept of failing your way to success. To get to the working prototype of the dual cyclone vacuum cleaner took 5,126 iterations, 15 years, and cost tens of thousands of pounds in debt to get there. Dyson Ltd is now a successful company which has made James Dyson a billionaire. The truth is you don’t fail until you quit.

As James Dyson says:

“Failure is interesting — it\’s part of making progress. You never learn from success, but you do learn from failure. (When I created the Dual Cyclone vacuum), I started out with a simple idea, and by the end, it got more audacious and interesting. I got to a place I never could have imagined because I learned what worked and didn\’t work.”

As a leader the environment you create in your organisation or team will dictate how those you lead respond to failure. You need to get clear on how you view and deal with failure in order for those around you to have a healthy response to it.

Failure Hacks

  • Change Perspective – Failure is about learning; to get where you want to be is going to take risk. Risk by its nature requires experimentation. You have no idea whether your idea will work out. However, if you adopt the attitude of ‘what can I learn from this’ then failure will only lead to improvement, creativity, and more innovation.
  • Eliminate Criticism – To enable an environment where innovation and creativity are celebrated then criticism has to be eliminated. This is not the same as critical thinking which is needed to evaluate any idea. It is getting rid of the judgement that can arise when ideas have not worked before. Your team members must feel safe to fail so that creativity and innovation can thrive.
  • Failure is inevitable – You are not living or making any kind of progress if you avoid failure. My young grandson is learning to walk and has fallen over many times, but he doesn’t quit he works out what went wrong and adjusts. The same is true for leaders: work out what went wrong, what went right, and make the adjustments needed.

“In leadership, it’s not a question of if you fail, it’s a question of when—and how you respond.” John C. Maxwell

  • The Cycle of Success – Paul Martinelli rightly points out that failure is just one step in the cycle of success and an essential part. The cycle goes: test, fail, learn, improve, re-enter. Learning and evaluation is at the heart of the process.
  • Resilience is key – I believe it was Edison who said, “I have not failed I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work,” on his way to bringing the lightbulb to the world. He didn’t quit. He learned, he grew, he bounced back, and he carried on going.

Winston Churchill put it well when he said: “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” 

You never know how close to success you or your team could be. If you give up you will never know. How will you respond? Don’t give up, failure is rarely fatal.

Stay safe.

Mark Billage

Mark Billage

Mark’s passion is to help realise individuals’ potential, be they leaders or team members, through empowering organisational culture. He has spent 7 years leading an organisation based in the non profit sector. In that time, he focused on creating a culture that enabled and empowered individuals, with the aim of seeing a high performing team better able to achieve the organisation’s mission.

Our Vision

To train and equip leaders to transform culture, build successful teams and organisations where everyone is seen, heard and valued for their unique contribution.

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