“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” —Robert F. Kennedy
Failing is often scary. It is uncomfortable and painful, and because we are wired to avoid pain, we want to avoid failure. But is failure really something bad? Or do we feel bad about it because we were taught that making mistakes is a bad thing and we are often punished for it?
I am not trying to say go forth and fail on purpose. No, some mistakes are fatal—figuratively and literally. What I am saying is that, sometimes, we have to look at failure differently: it is not the opposite of success, it is a complementary element of it.
Some leaders value perfectionism. It makes them proud to have a “clean” record of no failures. However, people who have never failed more often than not are the ones who have never taken any risks or have tried to avoid responsibility by avoiding risk or passing the blame to someone else.
The road to growth and success, as a person and as a professional, is full of challenges, and those challenges come with risks. Innovation is built on the foundation of many failures—trials that didn’t pass the different tests. However, each of those failures wasn’t for nothing. They became valuable lessons and sources of information that were applied to the next trial, and the next, and so on until they came upon a breakthrough.
If it weren’t for those people who dared to fail, innovation would not be possible.
Failures that result from thoughtful “experiments” or “trials” are not failures. They are data points.
I interviewed Kelly Cardenas recently, and he said, “Our [company] rulebooks are just a list of our screw-ups.” The beautiful thing about realizing that rules are just a record of mistakes that a person, team, or company has made is that you also realize those rules were there because someone tried something and it just didn’t work out. That thought frees people to dare to try, to move, to take action. And only when we take action do we see results.
The higher the risks, the greater the rewards. It is such an overused expression, but it is true. Because the more valuable that thing or endeavor is, the greater the stakes, and the greater the rewards you reap from taking action despite the risk.
But if you are too afraid to fail, oftentimes you do nothing, or you choose a “safe bet.” Sometimes, it is the wiser and better option. Often, it is just an excuse.
“When you’re good at making excuses, it’s hard to excel at anything else.” —John Landis Mason
Harvard Business Review quoted General Motors’ Charles Kettering, “What every educated person needed to learn, he felt, was ‘that it’s not a disgrace to fail, and that you must analyze each failure to find its cause… You must learn how to fail intelligently. Failing is one of the greatest arts in the world. One fails forward toward success.’”
It is undeniable that the world’s greatest inventions are the results of “failures.” Making mistakes, being wrong, or not achieving the results you expected doesn’t make you less of a person (or a leader). What really matters is how you deal with failure and how you utilize what you have learned to move forward and grow.
Failure is scary, in the same way business risks are scary. But I am challenging you to dare to fail. It’s the only way to achieve greater heights.
Thanks for reading A Brilliant Tribe.