How Failing Helps You Win


When I hear the word “failure,” I cringe. Then quickly distract myself. Emotionally, it feels similar to avoiding a pile of dog detritus on the sidewalk. I don’t like the word, I don’t want to hear it, I don’t pay attention to it.

Corporate America feels the same way.

In a piece about how failure can be a competitive advantage, the Harvard Business Review argues that without allowing people to fail, organizations will never come up with the radical solutions needed to tackle the unprecedented global challenges facing us today.

So failure is not an option, but failing is.
If you’re open to it, failure can be a stepping stone to success.

Here are the three reasons author Diane Coutu cites for corporations–and people–not wanting to fail:

Failure hurts. It can be humiliating. Even when we intentionally choose to embark on a new venture or to adopt new behaviors, failure is uncomfortable at best and demoralizing at worst. That’s why people often undertake significant challenges as part of a team — if the team fails, the individual members are better able to save face.

Failure teaches.
Professionals outside of the business world understand that failure is a learning experience. In medicine, for example, large teaching hospitals hold morbidity and mortality rounds where interns, residents, and specialists meet behind closed doors to study what went wrong that week. Why did patient X die? What could we have done to prevent that complication in patient Y? In the medical profession, at least, learning from failure saves lives.

Failure liberates. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling says failure is a critical milestone on the path to success. “Some failure in life is inevitable,” she says. “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all — in which case, you fail by default.”

Like the English proverb says, “he who never makes mistakes, never makes anything.” It’s time for corporate America to see failure as an inevitable part of growth, rather than something to sidestep on the sidewalk.

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  • Drea-I couldn’t agree more, and believe it is not a failure if you learn from your experiences. It is what makes us grow and can lead to innovation. I personally don’t like the word failure due to the negative connotations. It tends to get people looking at the downside instead of the opportunity.

    I wrote a post a couple months ago 7 ways losers win that discusses how you can benefit from you unsuccessful endeavors.

  • Sorry, I messed up the link. You can read 7 ways losers win.

  • but why bother with failure when there are legions of spineless politicians who loot us at the drop of a couple grand in campaign contributions…

  • Drea, I think failing is the golden opportunity to learn how to use our personal energy more effectively. We give far too much energy to this concept of failing, like we’re suppose to do it right every time. The first webinar I did was a real mess. As a psychologist I think it’s good to express that and move on. Ben Stein said, “It is inevitable that some defeat will enter the most victorious life…The human spirit is never finished when it is defeated…it is finished when it surrenders.”

  • It is actually the fear of failure, not failure itself, that cripples people. Unfortunately, old school dark management practices of chastising failures in general public encourages such thought processes.

    People no longer wish to explore and innovate. Its sad indeed.