Business Advice

Failing forward: Hayden Cox on why failure is necessary

- February 12, 2017 2 MIN READ

Failure is necessary. To live and succeed, we depend on it. Some of the best lessons and motivations come from those moments where you fall down and need to pull yourself back up again.

If you are truly taking risks to go out there and ‘make it’, you need to be prepared to take hits. Where success can sometimes create a false sense of ego or self-worth, experiencing failure is humbling. You can appreciate the highs, yet it is the lows that give you the chance to see flaws, especially your own, which is a blessing.

“experiencing failure is humbling.”

Failures are not always equal either. There are the more trivial ones, the hiccups, and then there are those that can emotionally break you to the point where you either give up completely or start over and try again. The outcome is for you to decide. You can accept defeat or you can learn, grow from it and come back stronger. I’ve found that how you proceed after a significant failure often has a lot to do with your character and inner belief in whether you have it in you to go after your vision. This inner belief, in your gut, is something that you can’t force for the sake of it. Nor can you let your arrogance or pride get the better of you. That happens all too often. Acceptance of failure doesn’t mean you won’t be successful in future endeavours, as long as you learn how and why you failed.

“you need to be prepared to take hits.”

Here’s another thought. Knowing only success can be far more dangerous than having experienced failure, one reason being that it can breed complacency, so that you approach certain decisions with less insight and perhaps less care. It can fool you into thinking that what you are doing now is enough and all that’s required. This type of comfort can expose you to a competitor sneaking up on you or, worse yet, superseding you and your business model with a superior innovation. If you know failure and have felt it, then you are likelier to make decisions more carefully and better calculate risk.

It’s been said that prior to Steve Jobs’ first exit from Apple, he had really only known success. Failure was unfamiliar to him. Time magazine writes that when he returned to the company many years later, ‘He had become a far better leader, less of a go-to-hell aesthete who cared only about making beautiful objects … Now he was a go-to-hell aesthete who cared about making beautiful objects that made money.’ Perhaps Jobs needed to experience different levels of failure in order to return with a more powerful approach to decision-making?

“knowing only success can be far more dangerous than having experienced failure.”

Although I wouldn’t suggest that every business and individual has to fail first in order to be successful in the future, there is truth in the saying that the best learnings in personal growth come from making mistakes. They shouldn’t be feared.

This is an edited extract from New Wave Vision by Hayden Cox (Simon & Schuster $39.99).

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