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Failure is not a dirty word

By July 17, 2018No Comments


It was General Colin Powell that said, ‘There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure’.

Oprah Winfrey said, “Failing is another stepping stone to greatness.”

I was reminded of these quotes recently whilst listening to Jamie Pride – serial entrepreneur, venture capitalist and author of Unicorn Tears: Why Startups Fail & How To Avoid It.  In his keynote, he was discussing failure and the need to build sustainable performance through failure.  He openly shared his personal failure of epic financial proportions and the impact this had on his health and well-being, his family and his ‘what’s next’. But what struck me more was his comment about the fact that most of us are conditioned to fear failure.  He asked the audience why? Why do we fear failure? “Is it a financial loss? Embarrassment? Being stigmatised?  Is it due to the fact that failure may shine a light on our own insecurities?”

I think we fear failure because of all of the above.  

If you look at some of the most successful individuals in play today, at some stage in their upward momentum they have ‘failed’ and shown strength, grit, and resilience in coming back from the edge.  

Richard Branson has failed and gotten up more times than many other entrepreneurs have made a decision.

Inventor Sir James Dyson, the beloved designer of the vacuum cleaner, went through 5127 prototypes and 5126 ‘failures’ to get his phenomenally successful first model right. That’s a lot of what could be termed complete and utter failure.

The future is asking us to challenge the status quo, to disrupt thinking, to be courageous and brave, to drive change.  These behaviours are not going to result in unicorns and rainbows 100% of the time. The reality is there will be failures and mistakes. But if we are going to change anything we have to embrace the notion that failure is not a dirty word but rather a necessity for driving change and progress.

In his article ‘Failure Is An Option’ Simon Sinek says; “to operate based on conviction and belief requires an acceptance that your actions could get you fired. This is different from pig-headed bravado, and it is different from putting the company at risk”.

When you hold back from making decisions out of a fear of failure, it engenders that same fear in those around you. This creates lacklustre projects, an endemic inability to change the business status quo, and a potential lack of future leader candidates. A large part of being brave enough to risk failing is making the tough calls, and showing staff, colleagues and those that are watching that this is OK.

Linda Sapadin, the US based author of Master Your Fears and psychologist, uses the example of The Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz, who takes action despite a lack of courage. ‘People think having courage means you have no fear’, when in fact, ‘…courage is taking action despite the fear’. She adds ‘you really need to be able to get beyond the fear to make your business happen’.

Accept that failure is not a dirty word and in its place appreciate that we have to be willing to fail – because this is bravery, this is resilience, this is grit, this is a willingness to try and change things.   

What would you do differently today if instead of fearing failure you embraced it for all its learnings?

A fear of failure doesn’t mean full stop – it means do it anyway, be brave, and go for it.

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