The value of failure is under-rated!  Granted there are certainly times and places that failure is not an option, but in the grand scheme of life, isn’t it the hard times, the times we get knocked down and must get back up that make the good times better?  Failure is a wonderful teacher!  In fact, did you know that:

  • Thomas Edison failed 1,000 time in his quest to invent the light bulb.
  • Henry Ford failed and went broke five times before successfully founding Ford Motor Co.
  • R.H. Macy failed seven times before his store in New York City caught on.
  • Walt Disney failed as a newspaper editor because, “he lacks imagination and has no good ideas.”
  • Michael Jordan initially failed to make his high school basketball team.
  • Steven Spielberg was rejected by USC’s School of Cinematic Arts multiple times.

All of these individuals are/were highly successful, and, according to best-selling author John Maxwell, had something in common; it was their perception of and response to failure that enabled them to accomplish whatever their minds and hearts desire. In essence, they kept failure in perspective, one which considers it as the opportunity for a new beginning versus an undesirable end.

Maxwell’s best seller, Failing Forward  encourages us to use each mistake we make as a means to making ourselves better.  And you need to make mistakes!  Life was never met to be a safe experience.  It is filled with risk.  However we do not take foolish risks, rather we consider what we have learned (formally and informally), assess the situation, weigh the costs and benefits and then make our decision.  Hopefully most of them payoff, but there will be those times they don’t, when we risked and failed.  So how do we recover, how do we emulate the other great achievers who risked and failed?  We keep trying!  We refuse to give up!  We hold onto self-belief and refuse to see ourselves as a failure.  How?  Maxwell provides us with seven abilities of achievers that enabled them to persevere and keep moving forward. He shares that achievers:

  1. Reject Rejection – Achievers who persevere do not base their self-worth on a one-time performance.  When they fall short, they learn from their mistakes.
  2. Take the Blame – Achievers take responsibility for their failures.  They maintain a locus of control.  They refuse to play victim.
  3. See Failure as Temporary – By putting mistakes or a failed effort into perspective, achievers are able to the failure as a momentary event, not a character flaw.
  4. Set Realistic Expectations – Unrealistic goals doom people to failure!
  5. Focus on Strengths – People who recognize and act on their strengths have a far lower rate of failure than those who constantly try to fix their weaknesses.  We are built to give our talents to the world, we need to be diligent about using them.
  6. Vary Approaches to Achievement – There is no one path that will always lead to success. On average achievers take many journeys before they find the one that works for them.  They keep trying and changing until they find what works for them.
  7. Bounce Back – When dealing with failure, achievers have short memories.  They put the negative emotions of the setback behind and press forward.  While they do stop to learn from the mistake or failure, they recognize that the past cannot be changes.

Neil Howe, a historian, economist and coiner of the term, “Millennial Generation” shares that it was the young “Boomers” (me) who first rebelled and adopted a risk-taking spirit.  Generation X (born 1965-1980) embraced the mindset even more strongly. They were the driving force behind the Silicon Valley tech boom where the idea of failure as a symbol of resiliency took root.  Millennials (born 1981-1997) he maintains, are skeptical about the idea of failing forward.  They came of age at a time when failures were more public and permanent than ever, and could keep them from getting a job.  Thus they climbed the corporate ladder and anticipated hurdles rather than forging through them. He believes this cautiousness continues to be is reflected in the actions of today’s young adults as evidenced by a decline in entrepreneurial efforts over the past decade.  A Babson College survey found that 41% of those who are 25 – 34, cite a “fear of failure” as the biggest roadblock to starting a business.

It would seem that the old dynamic has reversed.  Now it is the older leadership that extols the merits of failure to younger people who want to avoid it as they seek safer paths toward success.  If there was ever a time that we needed to embrace a “Failing Forward” mentality it is now!  Not just those who are younger, but all of us.  There are very few “safe” ways to resolve many of the challenges facing us today.  We need leaders at every age level to embrace a “Failing Forward” mindset as we seek to address the challenges in creating a better world. 

Embrace the Challenge Fail Forward