Failures and Success

Wrong Way

One of the benefits of talking to college students is that you get a chance to see a different point of view and you get to see how far you’ve come from that point in you life. I recently heard this as a favorite quote from a student: “what would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail.”

I knew where she was coming from, but I had to explain rather quickly that every bit of success I’ve had has come through failing.

Failure as a Business Imperative

Many innovations have come through failure. Post-It notes came about because of glue that didn’t set right. Sam Walton was told he couldn’t make up his own sales at his Ben Franklin store so he quit and founded Wal-Mart. Henry Ford ran two automobile companies that failed before he got it right.

Edison said, “If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”

Failure is a beautiful thing. It leads to more chances to try something new.

Fail Often, Fail Fast, and Learn

If you can, get failures churning along faster than not. The more failures you can get out of the way early in the process, the easier it will be to work past them, and then get onto a successful course. Failing very late in the process is a lot harder to fix.

One way to fail fast is to put out incomplete or prototype products or services. For instance, if you’re looking to sell your services as a social media consultant, don’t research all the various ways to do that. Put out an offering. Start trying to sell the offering. See how people react. See what works and what doesn’t.

If you’re looking for work, interview often. Learn what is useful in the interview and learn what gets overlooked. Learn how they react to different parts of the stories.

The key part of failure is learning and adapting and moving on. The key part is what makes it okay to fail. If you fail all the time and don’t learn, that’s not all that useful.

Why Hasn’t Anyone

At the new headquarters of HubSpot, several of the walls are painted with special white board paint, the kind that lets you draw on the walls with dry erase markers. Some walls, however, do NOT have this treatment. In one spot of the building (at least the last time I visited), there was this one lonely wall with nothing on it except for the words “Why hasn’t anyone” (without a question mark).

You guessed it. They put it on the wall that doesn’t have dry erase paint and then realized the error. But when I heard of this, I thought it was actually an interesting opportunity. Think about that phrase. “Why hasn’t anyone…” There’s such power in that phrase.

If I were you, and I am, I’d write “Why hasn’t anyone” in big fat permanent marker on the wall you look at most every day. Go ahead. And tell the boss to stuff it, when they ask what that’s about. You’re working on the future.

Because there’s probably no better question to start trying out new things (and potentially/probably failing) than starting with “Why hasn’t anyone.”

And you say…

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  • Jimd

    I have been in business for myself for over a decade as an entrepreneur I have learned to embrace the phrase ‘try 100 things, keep the 10 that work, try another 100 things…’

  • http://hannahsharvest.com Hannah Marcotti

    I’m going to write it right now on our chalkboard wall.

    Failing often brings me to the most amazing places!

    Why hasn’t anyone…

  • http://ClimbingEveryMountain.com Mary E. Ulrich

    I was recently trying to problem solve with a friend and she quoted, “The definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results.” I was shocked and offended. She saw me as doing the same things over and over. I, however, knew I tried to learn from each failed effort. I knew I spent considerable energy making incremental changes every day–Kaizen!

    I was trying to find that quote by Edison, thanks for that and all the inspiration.

    In my next life I want to work at HubSpot, and Disney, and … something in the Brogan enterprises where you can keep dreaming and evolving.

  • Anonymous

    It has always been my goal to fail spectacularly in everything I do, especially when it comes to The 168 project.

  • Anonymous

    What struck me about the student’s question was the “if you knew you couldn’t fail” thing, like that’s ever realistically part of the equation. Stuff can go wrong all the time, the point is to be resilient and work through the bumps, improvise and give it a go.

    Also, I find that there’s rarely a binary “fail or success” judgment on things- it’s often a case of “Well, that was okay, but could I do better next time? If I fell short of the “best” result, how can I use the results I did get and learn what to do next time? I look at it more as a spectrum of results than a pure win/lose proposition. For example, I don’t expect to win a half-marathon, but I do expect to participate and do my best, and my “competition” is more internal markers of progress than a mere win/lose sort of thing.
    We can always go back and revamp our prep before a “test” or “assessment” of how well we’ve done, how much we’ve learned, etc. so we can have an idea of what to tweek in the future- the danger comes from looking at the results and NOT assessing how you got there.
    (By the by, this is what I find the major problem with standardized testing in schools- it is used as an assessment only, not diagnostic of what additional tings a kid needs to learn or support they might need, and that’s where it falls down.)

    • http://www.jennbyham.com Jenn

      I think that if we weren’t so scared of “failure” we wouldn’t have to become resilient. There is a passion to do something big in that student’s statement. Resiliency makes us hesitant, and hesitation makes us late.

  • Anonymous

    What struck me about the student’s question was the “if you knew you couldn’t fail” thing, like that’s ever realistically part of the equation. Stuff can go wrong all the time, the point is to be resilient and work through the bumps, improvise and give it a go.

    Also, I find that there’s rarely a binary “fail or success” judgment on things- it’s often a case of “Well, that was okay, but could I do better next time? If I fell short of the “best” result, how can I use the results I did get and learn what to do next time? I look at it more as a spectrum of results than a pure win/lose proposition. For example, I don’t expect to win a half-marathon, but I do expect to participate and do my best, and my “competition” is more internal markers of progress than a mere win/lose sort of thing.
    We can always go back and revamp our prep before a “test” or “assessment” of how well we’ve done, how much we’ve learned, etc. so we can have an idea of what to tweek in the future- the danger comes from looking at the results and NOT assessing how you got there.
    (By the by, this is what I find the major problem with standardized testing in schools- it is used as an assessment only, not diagnostic of what additional tings a kid needs to learn or support they might need, and that’s where it falls down.)

  • http://crowdbeacon.com/how-works.aspx Rachel Patterson

    For a while I use take “If you knew you couldn’t fail…” to heart but my limited years in the working world made me a pragmatist when faced with failure. I appreciate the meaning of the phrase but I think the focus is disempowering. Obviously, the quote means to push your limits but it is still enforcing the fact that failure is BAD. Experience is the mother of learning and every time I’ve experienced an outcome, positive or negative I always got something out if it. Fear of fail is avoiding experiences and what type of life is that? Now if I only learned that insight and taken it to heart when I was a child. Let’s not focus on the pos/neg outcome, let’s enjoy the process. There are so many possibilities, keep moving forward. =)

  • http://twitter.com/MimiMeredith Mimi Meredith

    I love the comments on this thread that celebrate the education that only comes through glorious failures. I am not at all afraid of failure. Perhaps it’s because I don’t think much about what other people think of me. I have the confidence of knowing a few people love me, no matter what. I know God is, so I am. It doesn’t make me failure-proof, but it gives me the sense of confidence to try again and again and again.

    Regarding the student’s comment…I gave a coffee mug with that expression to my husband when he was on the brink of a new business. It was scary, and I wanted him to quit thinking about the “what ifs” of failure and focus on the what ifs of success…what would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail reminds you to let loose the restraining fear of failure and to instead, embrace what you are capable of. The gift of failure can still happen, but sometimes, we need to remind one another how spectacularly we can gift the world when we succeed. I think that quote is just that little reminder…a nudge to pursue the great dreams.

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  • http://www.lisaalvey.com Lisa Alvey

    Our interactive team motto is “Fail Fast, Fail Smart” Thanks for the reminder to keep trying things and pushing our limits.

  • http://blog.eaglespace.com delhiboy

    The question by the student makes for a good quote, but in the real world, there is always a price attached to failure.

    Very often, organizations will tell employees “it is OK to fail” but then, the price of that failure is exorbitantly high. This is a surefire way to kill innovation and learning, no?

  • http://www.westcoastfamilychiropractic.com Eric Brukwinski

    Excellent

  • http://www.westcoastfamilychiropractic.om Eric Brukwinski

    Type your comment here.article! Failure and success is a constantly evolving perception. Once we arrive at one goal, we can gather our thoughts, reassess and set new goals. Ad constantly learn, grow and evolve! Thanks for such a great read! Keep it coming!

  • http://www.advancedwebads.com/sc/164 Randy Addison

    The more you fail, the more you learn! The more you learn, the more you earn! That is just how business works. Great article! Absolutely great.

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  • http://www.mynotetakingnerd.com/blog Lewis LaLanne aka Nerd #2

    “Everything is impossible until it isn’t.” Smart phones, computers, airplanes, indoor plumbing, fire, etc. EVERYTHING.

    And no path to give your deepest gift is ever going to be problem-free. As a matter of fact, the more resistance aka failure you meet, the more you can be assured that you’re on the right track. It should encourage you.

    No great person ever changed the/their world with ZERO challenge. When you welcome challenge, you welcome success.

    Thank you Chris for shining you light here and sharing your gifts with the world!

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  • http://www.webuildyourblog.com Andrew @ Blogging Guide

    I’ve often believed that the failures we go through in our lifetime hones us to becoming better individuals. Such a positive approach to tackling the issue of failures. Please keep it up as you continue to inspire more people by sharing thoughtful content such as this.

  • http://twitter.com/danpaley23 Dan Paley

    “Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say why not?” -Robert Kennedy

    Why hasn’t anyone???

  • http://twitter.com/danpaley23 Dan Paley

    “Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say why not?” -Robert Kennedy

    Why hasn’t anyone???

  • Scott

    I love the notion of failing fast and early. Sometimes we can get stuck on trying to make sure everything is just perfect before we even step out and try. Thanks for push Chris!

  • http://www.todayhaspower.com Rob

    Chris,
    It’s amazing how some products become ‘needed’ after we have them. Facebook and Twitter are just two examples. The witdrawal symptoms would be something fierce without them, that is, until the next ‘needed’ was there to replace them. Companies that go viral give almost instant fame to the founders and label them in the ‘genius’ rankings. But, it all comes down to a simple question they asked themselves,”Why hasn’t anyone?”

  • http://www.pixelbrand.ca Chris Donnelly

    Great Post.
    “Fail fast and early” – makes so much sense.
    Getting past the “fear of failure” is so crucial ad can be difficult at times… That fear can be so paralyzing. This article resonates with me and reminds me to just GO! Thanks for a great read.

  • http://www.pixelbrand.ca Chris Donnelly

    Great Post.
    “Fail fast and early” – makes so much sense.
    Getting past the “fear of failure” is so crucial ad can be difficult at times… That fear can be so paralyzing. This article resonates with me and reminds me to just GO! Thanks for a great read.

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  • http://www.brickellpontiacparts.com pontiac aztek parts

    Well what you don’t want to do just AS important as finding that right position that will help my career flourish.

  • http://socialdeviants.blogspot.com/ janet

    “if at first you don’t succeed” is the other side of same coin. failure is just the “negative” term for “try, try again.”

  • http://www.irstaxlawyers.org California Tax Lawyers

    The witdrawal symptoms would be something fierce without them, that is, until the next ‘needed’ was there to replace them. Companies that go viral give almost instant fame to the founders and label them in the ‘genius’ rankings.

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  • http://www.jennbyham.com Jenn

    I love that they wrote on the wall that didn’t have the IdeaPaint! Some one took the initiative to start a discussion and even it that, sort of failed – no one could keep the discussion going because it was on the wrong wall.

  • http://twitter.com/jenmontfort Jennifer Montfort

    What a great post. I’ve always looked at failure as a way to learn and improve; you always have to get back on that horse when you fall and those falls will make you a better rider in the end. I’ve taken that view on to my professional life as well. Failure is a chance for you to assess what went wrong and to put in place tools to help prevent the same thing from happening again. What isn’t helpful is when you’re in an environment that doesn’t recognize that truth. They’ll see failure as proof that you can’t be trusted not to let anything fall through the cracks, or interpret it as a critical fault line in your abilities. To say such an environment is damaging is an understatement; if you can’t feel free to fail you’ll just end up obsessively trying not to, and in the end, that’s not serving anyone well.

  • http://twitter.com/jenmontfort Jennifer Montfort

    What a great post. I’ve always looked at failure as a way to learn and improve; you always have to get back on that horse when you fall and those falls will make you a better rider in the end. I’ve taken that view on to my professional life as well. Failure is a chance for you to assess what went wrong and to put in place tools to help prevent the same thing from happening again. What isn’t helpful is when you’re in an environment that doesn’t recognize that truth. They’ll see failure as proof that you can’t be trusted not to let anything fall through the cracks, or interpret it as a critical fault line in your abilities. To say such an environment is damaging is an understatement; if you can’t feel free to fail you’ll just end up obsessively trying not to, and in the end, that’s not serving anyone well.

  • http://www.LocalPosition.com LocalPosition.com

    Failure and success is a constantly evolving perception. Once we arrive at one goal, we can gather our thoughts, reassess and set new goals.

  • Barbara Schneider

    I’m currently reading a book called “Mindset” which relates to your post. It’s about people that have a Growth Mindset versus a Fixed mindset. If you have a Growth mindset – like your post – you see the advantages to failing as being learning opportunities which increase your intelligence. Someone with a Fixed mindset thinks that that they have a certain amount of intelligence and it can’t be changed. In other words – they are afraid to fail and if they do, they feel like they aren’t intelligent and therefore don’t take the chances to fail and possibly learn from their mistakes. Really interesting.

  • http://www.web-hosting-service.in Web Hosting Service

    Failure is the first step to success – I often heard this proverb and have heard it from all kind of people. Of course yes, I do agree with this proverb, failure will lead you to success and it will help you to learn, but it all depends on the way you approach it.

    • X

      Could you elaborate a little on the ” How you approach it” part?

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  • http://www.cubastudygroup.org/index.cfm/executiveboard Alfonso Fanjul

    yes ofcourse failures and success is a part of our daily life, it often says that the more you fail in your life the experienced you are.

  • http://www.mactonweb.com web development bangalore

    Great post.And I appreciate your pointing out how important persistence is in order to achieve success.

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  • http://www.mactonweb.com Web design London

     I’ve taken that view on to my professional life as well. Failure is a chance for you to assess what went wrong and to put in place tools to help prevent the same thing from happening again. What isn’t helpful is when you’re in an environment that doesn’t recognize that truth.

  • http://www.mactonweb.com Web design London

     I’ve taken that view on to my professional life as well. Failure is a chance for you to assess what went wrong and to put in place tools to help prevent the same thing from happening again. What isn’t helpful is when you’re in an environment that doesn’t recognize that truth.

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