In praise of failure


We all have our own “failures”. The way we look at failing and what we see as failing is often the biggest cause of our grief. The emotion of failing causes us to look away and not learning the complete lesson of what happened. The “failure” when seen “as is” can be an enormous catalyzer for future “success”.

An article of Marisa Taylor in Ode Magazine inspired me to have a look at J. K. Rowlings commence speech at Harvard. The speech is in total around 21 minutes. 21 minutes who will change your “failures” into inspiration for future successes.

Some of history’s most impressive successes started out as big, fat failures below some examples:

Ludwig van Beethoven’s teacher told the young musician he was hopeless as a composer; then Beethoven went deaf, yet he still managed to compose some of the most ravishing music ever written.
Abraham Lincoln suffered a nervous breakdown and lost several Congressional bids before becoming a U.S. president and abolishing slavery.
Business woman Carly Fiorina disappointed her parents by dropping out of law school after one semester, but went on to be vice-president of AT&T and CEO of Hewlett-Packard.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who flunked sixth grade, suffered a string of catastrophic defeats against the Nazis and was booted out of office after the war, yet is still considered his country’s greatest wartime leader. He summed up his philosophy like this: “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
Basketball star Michael Jordan in a commercial for Nike—famous for its failure-defying tagline “Just do it”—Jordan says, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot, and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life—and that is why I succeed.”
Companies like Apple and Xerox, which have been led by executives who encouraged effort and innovation and, when setbacks did occur, regarded them as stepping stones to something better.

The stories of the world’s most successful failures suggest that what matters most is not whether you win or lose, but how you fail.

Failure in business is, in fact, more common than success:

More than half of all dot-coms that received venture-capital financing in 1999 didn’t make it past the first five years, according to a study by the University of Virginia’s business school and the University of Maryland.
Automaker Henry Ford, who went bankrupt multiple times before getting Ford Motor Company off the ground: “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”
Japanese electronics company Sony and the spectacular flop of its Betamax video-cassette recorder (VCR).

For Raynor,a professor at the Richard Ivey School of Business in London, Canada, and a distinguished fellow with Deloitte Research in Boston, Massachusetts, the lesson is: The opposite of success is not failure, but mediocrity. To achieve big successes, you need to take big risks; if you take little or no risks, mediocrity is guaranteed. Raynor says the key is to have a number of higher-risk strategies up your sleeve in case one or more of them doesn’t pan out. “It’s an indictment of what we’ve come to think of as the prerequisites of success,” he says. “Failure can be beneficial, but you have to learn the right lessons from it.” In other words, you can’t be a game-changer in the business world unless you try something risky, which might well result in failure.

The same “success bias” is present in science:

In the 1830s, scientist Charles Goodyear had a vision of making rubber the material of the future. Goodyear was laughed at by potential investors and even thrown into jail several times by creditors (he did some of his first experiments from his jail cell). It wasn’t until he accidentally spilled a concoction of rubber and other materials on a hot stove that he came up with a mixture that could stand up to extreme temperatures, which eventually became the basis for the tires sold by Goodyear, a company named in his honour even though Goodyear had no affiliation with it.
Even Viagra, surely one of the most successful drugs of all time, started out as a mistake. In 1992, pharmaceutical company Pfizer was testing the drug sildenafil for the alleviation of angina, chest pains caused by heart disease. The men involved in the clinical trials for the medication found that, while it didn’t affect their chest pain very much, it did have a marked effect on their libidos. Pfizer’s blunder launched a multibillion-dollar industry.
The Canadian cough syrup company, Buckley’s, which has capitalized on failure—in this case, its failure to make a cough syrup that’s palatable.

So if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again—but try to fail better.