I get it.
A fear of failure deters many from stepping out of their comfort zone to try something new.
But if the dictionary defines failure as ‘a lack of success’, then in effect, this mantra encourages you to be unsuccessful.
So my question is this:
Should failure EVER be the goal?
Like Change, Failure is Inevitable
Everyone experiences failure.
Steve Jobs dropped out of university and later, dumped by the very company he co-founded. So he failed at least twice.
Even after Bill Gates became successful with Microsoft, he experienced failure when his TV-style internet show on MSN, flopped.
Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue Magazine since 1988, got fired from Harper’s Bazaar, less than nine month after her start.
Instead of giving up, these three (and many more) persevered and became known for their accomplishments.
In the end, it’s not failure, but how you cope with failure that defines you.
Ingrained Fear of Failure
For many, the fear of failure was ingrained at an early age.
Often at school, there was only one right answer… and shame on you if you didn’t get it the first try.
And even though ‘they’ say ‘there are no stupid questions’, did you ever keep quiet so you didn’t sound foolish?
Or felt threatened by your mistakes and covered them up? I know I have.
But as you grew older, you realized you had to take a few risks.
Make mistakes. Learn from them and grow.
And become a better person for it.
Bill Gates explains it well: "Once you embrace unpleasant news not as a negative but as evidence of a need for change, you aren't defeated by it, you're learning from it. It's all in how you approach failures."1
Time to Swing the Pendulum Back
But the ‘Fail Fast, Fail Often’ mantra promoted in the Silicon Valley, swings too far in the wrong direction.
To promote failure as no big thing, and in fact, saying—go ahead, fail, it’s totally fine… is careless and irresponsible.
It’s as if you’re given free rein to try anything without consideration.
Perhaps in this time of unpredictable and disruptive change, digital companies feel the need to move quickly.
So they try one thing. If it doesn’t work, quit that and try something else.
Is that really failure?
Or trial and error?
Think the CEO’s of these companies sit around saying failure is acceptable?
I don’t think so. They expect employees to do whatever it takes to succeed.
Flexibility is the Key
Improve your chances for success by allowing yourself to be flexible.
Understand when you try something new, you can’t think of everything or predict the future with certainty.
Focus on the goal. Learn from each step. And be agile enough to adjust your course for success.
If you drive from home to the next city and a section of the highway is closed, you can either turn back, or detour around to reach your goal.
For a guided missile to hit its target, it adjusts multiple times, depending on the wind, the speed or movements of the target.
Learn From Both Your Progress and Mistakes
Don’t be afraid to step forward with change. But monitor your progress.
Push yourself to understand both the good and bad. Why did this work but not that?
Do everything in your power to be successful.
As Arianna Huffington says, “failure is not the opposite of success but a stepping stone to success”.
What failure propelled you to success? I’d love to hear your story…
1. Bill Gates Author: Business @ the Speed of Thought: Succeeding in the Digital Economy