Why businesses shouldn't fear failure

Posted on:21. 08. 2015

By Cliff Findlay

Failure is critical to business success, so why is it deemed to be such a ‘bad thing’ in the UK? You might not get it right first time, but you’ll learn valuable lessons from trying.

In the U.S. failure is seen as a step towards the path to success. Across the pond, an entrepreneur who has failed two or three times in business is seen as a ‘good thing.’  Investors consider failure to be a valuable learning experience - those who have learned from their failings stand a better chance of success.

Contrast this with the United Kingdom, where failure is deemed to be ‘a bad thing.’  You are cast as a failure and therefore you’ll probably fail again and are a poor investment. These two contrasting examples demonstrate that failure is simply a mindset.

In my opinion, failure is a critical part of success. I am a firm believer in the first of these mentalities, the U.S. mentality - I believe that in order to succeed youmust fail. If you always play safe you may never fail but you will run the risk of never reaching your full potential as you will only do what you know. The only path to true success is to push your boundaries - pushing boundaries comes with a high risk of failure.

Let’s dig a little deeper into the U.S. approach to failure. Here are some quotes from some famous faces who failed at first, then didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

U.S. talk show host Oprah Winfrey is the richest female TV presenter of all time. She was fired from her first TV job as she was told she wasn’t fit for TV. Her view: “Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failing is another steppingstone to greatness.”

Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because he ‘lacked imagination and had no good ideas’. He was also told by MGM studios that a mouse would never work.

Michael Jordan is probably the greatest basketball player of all time but was cut from his high school basketball team. He carried on regardless: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” 

Let’s examine the life story of one of the greatest greatest failures of all time - USA president Abraham Lincoln. His family was forced out of their home and he had to leave school and work to support them. His mother died, he failed in business, ran for State legislature – lost, then lost his job. He wanted to go to law school, but couldn't get in.

Lincoln borrowed some money from a friend to begin a business and by the end of the year was bankrupt. He then spent the next 17 years of his life paying off this debt. He was engaged to be married, his sweetheart died and his heart was broken. He had a total mental breakdown and was in bed for six months. He sought to become speaker of the state legislature but was defeated. He sought to become elector and was defeated. He ran for Congress but lost.

Still determined, Lincoln ran for Congress again – and this time he won. He went to Washington and did a good job. He lost the re-election to Congress and sought the job of land officer in his home state. He was rejected. He ran for Senate of the United States twice and lost, sought the Vice Presidential nomination at his party’s national convention and got less than 100 votes.

What a loser.

The kind of loser that goes on to become one of the greatest leaders the United States has ever known, keeping the Union together during civil war and began the process to end slavery. “My greatest concern is not whether you have failed but whether you are content with failure,” he wrote of his bumpy path to success.

So failure is VITAL to success. We can only assume it is down to how the person or business handles disappointment or disaster that defines whether they are true, habitual failures or not.

If you are yet to be convinced, there are plenty of other stories of noteworthy rejects from both sides of the pond. Steven Spielberg was rejected from film school three times, the Beatles were dropped by their first label after being told that guitar music is on its way out and Steve Jobs was fired by Apple at the age of 30. All of these went on to become household names. They knew that failure is simply the world telling you that what you did was ‘wrong’ and best thing to do is to get up, dust yourself off and start again.

So the next time you fail, smile. Look at the failure and decide what went wrong. It wasn’t you and doesn’t mean that if you fail once, you will fail again - that’s just your head talking. As Robert F Kennedy once wrote: “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”

I’ll leave you with the famous words of Thomas Edison who held over 1,000 patents during his life and is famous for creating the light bulb. “Many of life’s failures are people who didn’t realise how near they were to success when they gave up.” Well said, Thomas….

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