Failure Is Not Good

There have  been endless articles, books, and talks  espousing the value of failure to entrepreneurs as well as those working away inside companies big and small. Failure is generally portrayed as a not-too-unpleasant and necessary stepping stone to success; something to learn and grow from. I appreciate that you can learn things from analyzing failure and the value of recoding failure as success. Consider Thomas Edison’s comment on his search for a lightbulb filament: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that will not work.”

But, this obfuscates the fact that failure is not a good thing. Having witnessed much failure and having participated in many discussions about initiatives that failed, I’ve noticed that there are two things that usually come from failure: wasted time and resources, and a bunch of unhappy people.

Most people don’t immediately rebound from failure. They aggravate, they point fingers as they look for accountability for the failure elsewhere, they rush off to bars, they retreat into depression, they lose their house. In cases where the failure is significant, they might never recover. Only occasionally, do those who failed or those around them properly evaluate the situation and learn from it, discovering ways of doing things differently that eventually lead to success.

It would be better to think of failure as something that happens when you didn’t think things through, your idea was not so good, your execution was terrible, or you’re a poor judge of people. In other words, it was your fault.

What you need to do is own the failure right from the beginning. When failure happens, it is yours.  (If you become wildly successful, credit will flow to you. You’ll be compared to Jeff Bezos. And if you fail, well, that has to be on you too.)

There’s a wonderful thing about being accountable and accepting responsibility as soon as failure happens. It focuses your mind. It causes you to think more and watch closer and do a much better job of trying to ensure that failure does not happen again. If you accept what’s happening as soon as you see things going south you may even be able to rapidly correct course and avoid a bad ending, or at least mitigate your losses.

Years ago, I was a partner in a startup company named Logotalkers. We developed and manufactured a marketing gadget that looked exactly like your logo. It had a chip in it that allowed you to record and re-record a message before giving it to someone. My favorite product was a beer bottle that was given out at bars. Think about the re-record possibilities.

Sounds cool, right? Lots of people agreed that it was cool, but we never were able to get the price low enough. Big failure. No fun.

But I learned the one thing that should be everyone’s takeaway from failure. The experience is so painful that you never want to go through it again. Failure is a very effective motivator to encourage you to do whatever it takes to ensure success the next time around.






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