How many of us started out in life hearing the words from peers, parents and professionals that failure is bad? Schools around the world predominantly are run on pass/fail systems. “Failure as a bad thing” seems perfectly prevalent no matter where you seem to go. Why is this so?

Why is the default setting for failure automatically deemed a negative condition? Could it also be a positive one? Or does the connotations around the word simply pertain to one’s perspective? Hmmm…

Objectively speaking, if we fail and it is thought to be a negative thing, isn’t this simply a judgment placed on us by others? Isn’t that simply an opinion based on outlook? When you think about it objectively, what it all really comes down to is how we interpret the results of any particular outcome. Either as a loss or as a progression.

My Oxford Dictionary defines failure as a “lack of success in the attainment of.” They say so, but I say NO!?

If a lack of success in attainment is the measuring stick, then how do we account for all the learning and progress that occurs along the way? So long as progress is being made, is it a failure in its negative sense? Or can it simply be a marking post along the journey toward success?

Just ask Thomas Edison. After conducting thousands of experiments to invent the light bulb with “no success,” someone asked him why he did not give up; as he had failed so many times in his attempts. Edison was reported to reply, “I haven’t failed. I have learned a thousand ways of how not to invent the light bulb.” It all comes down to how you look at it. He didn’t focus on a lack of successful attainment, he focused on attainment.

There is only one failure; that is when you quit. It is when you fail to “show up.”

To keep from being that kind of failure, always aim to give 100%. Doing so ensures that you will maximize the learning along the way to your goal, your target, or your dream. Showing up requires that you to apply yourself physically, mentally, emotionally and, yes, spiritually. By practicing this with discipline, you begin to hard-wire your nervous system and deepen the learning faster and more effectively. You will begin to create a person who is successful in failure.

When asked, Dr. John C. Maxwell will say that one of his most impactful books that he has written is his book Failing Forward. In fact, he jokes it should be required in university curriculum to teach people how to progress through life’s real challenges. He says about failures: “They’re coming. Why not be prepared?”

I recall a conversation I had with a client when the topic of failure came up.

Immediately he became argumentative. He did not “believe in failure.” To him failure implied being a loser. When I asked him if he had ever failed at anything he admitted he had. The next question I asked was if he had learned from the failure. He grudgingly admitted that he had.

Then I asked if his failures had helped him progress or move toward success. As I asked this question he had a revelation. He decided that so long as one can apply the learning to move forward, then it is a success. And just like Edison, the light bulb eventually went on.

No matter what the situation, if you give it your all and learn something, then you have succeeded. That means you can always win if you apply the correct perspective. In some degree, if you are learning, you are a winner!

So, I will ask again, ‘What is failure?’  Now it is time for my definition. Failure is:


F ocussed

A nd

I nsightful

L earning

U sing

R eal

E xperience

Ask yourself what must happen for you to feel success? Your team? Your family? Your organization? Focus on that! Repeatedly. When you do not get the result you intended, how can you focus ——————–
Dr Richard Norris MBA is Head of Global Development Lifestyle Architecture
He speaks, helps clients with executive & business coaching and leadership
EmailLinkedinTwitterWeb | Skype: richardthemanofaction | +44 1738 827813
on the experience objectively?

Be persistent in discovering every bit of insight you can. Apply that insight in the future. When you do that, think of how much more of a success will you be! You will have then learned to fail to succeed.

Where have you stumbled through failure and kept your legs underneath you until you past the finish line? When have you persevered and came up a winner. How is your view toward those “failures” along the way? Do you let failing arrest your spirit? Or do you look optimistically at these events as milestones on a journey of success? I would love to hear your story!

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Dr Richard Norris MBA is Head of Global Development Lifestyle Architecture
He speaks, helps clients with executive & business coaching and leadership
Email | Linkedin | Twitter | Web | Skype: richardthemanofaction | +44 1738 827813

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2 responses to “Fail:Succeed

  1. You make a great point here. Carol Dweck, in her book, Mindset, shows that our attitudes toward failure, our learning, and our ultimate success are contingent on whether we believe we are capable of learning or not. I’m intrigued by the question of what it would take to create a culture in which failure is not stigmatized. I believe at W.L. Gore they actually break out champagne to celebrate failures when people took admirable risks.


  2. Hi Ryan!

    Your observation about WL Gore I believe is right. I saw the MD for the UK present once and they really take a different perspective.

    Be Awesome!


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