The liberating power of failure
The title seems oxymoronic doesn’t it? For people who don’t understand how to harness failure, learn from it, stand back up, and lean forward, that is most certainly the case. I have espoused the benefits of practicing and failing in a safe environment for over fifteen years. But I am not the only evangelist of taking stock of and learning from failure.
I’ve now realized that we are all a combination of failure and success. Like experiencing joy and pain, without one, we’d never know another. Fredrik Eklund
A very partial list of evangelists who “get” the power of failure
Roger Schank, Professor and Author at Northwestern University – “True learning doesn’t happen until you practice and fail in a safe environment.”
Fredrik Eklund, the Nation’s #1 real estate broker and star of Bravo TV’s “Million Dollar Listing New York” – “…I hadn’t yet come to understand that failure is inevitable if you want to be wildly successful. I’ve now realized that we are all a combination of failure and success. Like experiencing joy and pain, without one, we’d never know another.”
Robert Herjavec, Entrepreneur, Founder of Herjavec Group – “Plan on being a lifelong learner. Because you need to be. And you will need to know how to bounce back from time to time. Among all things that will happen when starting out as an entrepreneur or a professional or salesperson, here’s one you can count on: you will make mistakes.”
Malcolm Gladwell, “Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard for twenty-two minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after thirty seconds.”
Ellen Degeneres – “When you take risks you learn that there will be times when you succeed and there will be times when you fail, and both are equally important.”
Winston Churchill – “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
There are plenty of similar quotes from many other people espousing analogous sentiments on failure and its benefits.
Businesses who have failed and turned it around
What about businesses? What differentiates good from great companies? Two core elements are resilience and the ability to learn from mistakes.
Delta Airlines filed bankruptcy in the mid-2000s based on intense competition and fuel pricing. In 2013, 120.4 million passengers boarded Delta planes, more than any other airline.
Lego lost money the first time in 1998 because of intense competition from video games. A new CEO, Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, took over in 2004 and was insightful enough to see the power of merging Lego toys with popular entertainment brands (Marvel, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, etc.) to make Lego the most profitable toy manufacturer in the world.
Starbucks was expanding too fast in the 2000s. By late 2008, net income had fallen, cutting Starbucks’ stock price in half. Former CEO, Howard Schultz returned and turned the company around.
Want more business case studies on failure, check out: “The Biggest Business Comebacks of the Past 20 Years” (Fast Company)
The red thread in all of these examples is that while failure can be a setback, it doesn’t necessarily signal an ultimate demise. Know that mistakes and failures are going to happen. But also know that true learning happens when we practice and fail, even though it may be temporarily painful.