honest-no one likes to admit failure. In fact, no one
likes to fail at all. The simple fact is that in
business or in our lives, people are rewarded or praised
only when they succeed.
What happens to those who have failed then? As it is,
you hardly come across someone who is rewarded for
failing. So then, is it always bad when fails?
In Megan McArdle’s latest book, The Up Side of Down-Why
Failing Well Is the Key to Success, she writes about how
we can all learn to fail a little better, and how to
harness the incredible power of failure.
Firstly, let’s define what failure is. Failure is when
something that we were trying to accomplish fell short
of what was required or expected.
Ask any person if he or she has ever failed in any way
and the odds are you will find that everyone has
encountered failures before. There is no shame in
failure. The reality is that all of us do “fail” to
reach some of our expectations in our lifetimes. Failure
is fundamental, and it provides the best avenue for
learning as long as we admit out failures.
The problem arises when we try to “avoid” failure by not
admitting it. The issue with us avoiding failures
continuously is that we can never learn from them. As a
result, we run the risk of making the same mistakes that
led to the failure.
The inability, sometimes stubbornness, to admit failure
can lead to loss aversion. Take the example of gamblers.
One of the main signs of a compulsive gambler is that
after he loses, he wants to go back to the casino as
soon as possible to win back his losses. Gamblers know
that statistically, chances of redeeming losses are
close to zero, and yet, they keep going back to the
It’s even tougher to admit failure when you’ve tasted
success before. That is why we see so may examples of
once-successful companies having such a tough time
The case of Kodak is an excellent example. Kodak was
once one of the most successful imaging solutions
companies but went bankrupt in 2013 because it simply
did not innovate.
Some perfectionists will argue that failure is
unacceptable. Words like “failure” and “mistake” are not
in their vocabulary. However, the fact remains that
there is no way of guaranteeing zero failure.
In 1985, The Coca-Cola Company embarked on a secret
project known as “Project Kansas” because its
competitor, Pepsi-Cola, Was “drinking” into its sales.
The purpose of the project was to conduct more market
research than anyone else in the world prior to
launching the new Coke.
Within three months after the launch of the new Coke, it
became a major marketing failure, resulting in the
return of the original Classic Coke to the market. The
new Coke project could have taken the entire company
down with it, had not the executives at Coca-Cola
accepted the failure of the campaign and immediately
pulled the plug.
The famous basketball player Michael Jordan once said,
“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 game winning shot and missed. I’ve
failed over and over and over again in my life. And that
is why I succeed.”
Unemployment can sometimes be viewed by today’s society
as a major failure. It is even worse for those who have
been through long-term unemployment.
Speak to anyone who has been unemployed for a long time
and he will tell you that being unemployed was probably
one of the worst things that ever happened to him.
Most unemployed people withdraw from social
relationships because they find it painful to be hanging
around those who with jobs. On the other hand, for some,
being unemployed was probably the best thing ever
happened to them.
It is actually fairly simple to solve the problem of
unemployment. i.e. you keep looking for a job. The
harder you look, the more likely you are to land
yourself a job.
Arguably , you may not find your dream job, but at least
it serves as your source of income. Lowering your
expected salary of income. Lowering your expected salary
and/or moving to another state or country for a job are
options that you can consider to solve your state of
Learning From Failure
Once we are able to admit and accept failure, it makes
learning from failure easier. There are endless
possibilities on how much one can learn from failure, as
it depends entirely on different circumstances. However,
it is equally important to learn the right lessons from
I once went on a movie date with my fiancÚ and 10
minutes into the movie, I knew it was going to be a
boring movie. I mentioned it to her and she told me that
we could leave the theatre and opt for another movie, or
spend our time doing something more interesting. I
insisted on staying until the end of the movie since we
had already paid for the movie tickets.
Well, you guessed it. That movie ruined the entire day
for me. The money for tickets was already spent. There
was nothing to gain by wasting another two hours in the
cinema when er could have spent those hours doing
something else that was more fun.
From that day on, I learned the lesson of sunk
cost-trying to salvage what I’ve lost and running the
risk of doubling my losses when I could have cut my
losses and moved on.
Lastly, forgiveness is an important factor when it comes
to learning how to fail well and to succeed. In almost
every area of your life, you will have to deal with
forgiveness sooner or later. You may be the offender and
therefore need to ask for forgiveness, or you may be the
offended party and need to forgive the other person. In
whichever circumstance, learning how to handle
forgiveness is critical in achieving success.
Many people tend to think that to “forgive” is to
forget, which is not true. Julie Exline, associate
professor and director of clinical training at Case
Western Reserve University states that, “Most scholars
agree that forgiving does not mean excusing. It also
does not imply that you trust the person who hurt you.
Forgiveness can be difficult and it can be a long
process. “Even so, the rewards for forgiveness can be
Dr Frederic Luskin, head of The Forgiveness Project at
Stanford University also spoke about the importance of
forgiveness from failure. His research shows that “as
people learn to forgive, they become more hopeful,
optimistic and compassionate. People who learn to
forgive report significantly fewer symptoms of stress.
“Forgiving the people we work with is key to rebuilding
the trust in the workplace.
So, the next time you think you’ve reached a point of
failure, remember that all hope is not. Treat failure as
a new learning platform and learn how to achieve success
from those failures. Learn to forgive those who have
caused you to fail, and also learn to ask for
forgiveness when you are the one who caused the failure.