Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Become a Fan of Failure

I am a fan of failure; this might sound like an odd statement, after all failure is universally hated and feared, the mere thought of it is often enough to stop people in their tracks. This is hardly surprising, as children we are taught that failing is a bad thing that will bring recriminations and shame. Then when we leave school and start “climbing the ladder of success” it seems that the only place to be is the top and to get there we have to be perfect.

But do we? A friend of mine recently told me that she’d received a quote from saying that “anything worth doing is worth doing badly!”* I jumped up and clapped – “Yes exactly!” I said “After all if you never do it badly how will you ever get good enough to do it well?” A baby doesn’t learn to walk without falling down a lot. In fact there are some incredibly successful “Failures” out there. For example Bill Gates, first company Traf-O-Data flopped, Henry Ford”s first two automobile businesses failed – he said Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” And Walt Disney was fired by the editor of a newspaper because he had "no good ideas", he then formed Iwerks-Disney Animation Studios with a fellow animator but it flopped after just one month. He later said “You may not realise it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”

I had another conversation this week with some other mothers at my daughters school, concern was expressed that our schools sports day may go the way of so many others in England and be banned because the competitive spirit they create is considered “unhealthy” by the powers that be. Let me be clear, when I was at school I was terrible at sports and completely understand the humiliation that those of us constantly last across the line feel. My daughter is no whiz on the playing field either so I do not defend this from any craving for personal glories provided on the field. However people are not equally talented in all arenas and any one of us could get smug if not tested in ways that we struggle in. Knowing that we are not phenomenally good at everything helps us to be a little better at empathy, the foundation of exceptional communication, and therefore can help us be more successful in every other way.

However even an ardent fan of failure draws the line somewhere and for me I draw the line at anyone labelling themselves a failure. Maybe they have failed at something, or even several things but there are so many aspects to each and every one of us that I don’t believe that it is humanly possible to be a failure. Besides, so often when we fail at something it is that very failure that inspires our greatest efforts as well as provides the leap in understanding we need to succeed.

As Thomas Edison said “I have not failed, I have merely found 1000 ways that won’t work”

So go on, go for it – if the worst that can happen is that you fail, well that’d be wonderful too!