Many of America’s most spectacularly successful founders agree that their past failures were the making of them. Entrepreneurs such as Snapchat’s cofounder Evan Spiegel, Craigslist founder, Craig Newmark, Airbnb’s Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia and Huffington Post’s Arianna Huffington all failed miserably before they made it. Even entrepreneurs in the entertainment business, where you’re only as good as your last hit, such as Oprah Winfrey, JK Rowling, and Reese Witherspoon have hugely positive things to say about their many failed endeavors.
These women and men offer us a new perspective: that experiencing failure does not need to define someone as ‘a failure.’ In fact, when we view our own failures as shameful blots to be expunged, rather than extraordinary lessons in what to do differently next time, we are missing out on a huge potential for growth and reward.
Amy C. Edmondson, the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, believes strong leadership can build a learning culture—one in which failures large and small are consistently reported and deeply analyzed, and opportunities to experiment are proactively sought. We should, she says, recognize that failure is inevitable in today’s complex work environment. Edmondson’s study advocates reducing the stigma of failure. She cites the scientist Eli Lilly who holds“failure parties” to honor intelligent, high-quality experiments that fail to achieve the desired results.
What does failure actually mean to you?
For me, failure simply means that I set myself an intention which I was not able to live up to, a commitment which I did not keep, or a goal that I did not achieve.
The only sure-fire way I know to completely avoid failure is to never make commitments, never set intentions and never state your goals.
A life without failure is a life without striving. Of course, no one knowingly aims for failure. We hope for success. But, unless what we’re striving for is so easily within our grasp that reaching for it wouldn’t qualify as striving, we inevitably need to fail multiple times in order to succeed. This is true of every area of endeavor, from learning a new skill to launching a new company; from committing to being a good friend to becoming an inspiring leader.