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Five on Friday: How to fail

Five on Friday: How to fail

Welcome to Five on Friday, a round-up of views on a theme. This Friday we invite you to recognise failure, give it a hug and tell it that things will be better next time. Failing is an art, so we’re going to tell you how to fail good. I mean well. Fail well.

Inventor Thomas Edison is arguably the world’s most famous ‘failure’. That he succeeded after several failed attempts at creating the light bulb probably accounts for the ‘famous’ part but he tellingly turned those attempts into the tiles that paved his success. “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work,” he declared.

Perseverance is admirable, but how do you know when you’re pursuing a lost cause and when you might actually be onto something good? Learning how to fail (yes, there is a way) is key to being able to identify this. Here are five things to note.

1. Fail by striving
Edison’s ‘failures’ come from the number of attempts he made. He could have succeeded first go, but assuming the chances of accidentally inventing a light bulb are fairly slim, those attempts all represent hard work. Not trying hard enough is a recipe for true failure. “Many of life's failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up,” Edison said.

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Failing when you try is not failing but striving and not quite getting there. You’re a little short of your goal but you’ve started the journey, and that’s the most important part.

fail to get the job done

2. Learn from your mistakes
I once competed in a spelling bee. I don’t remember the words that I spelt correctly to make it to the final round, but I certainly remember the word* that knocked me out of contention. I have never misspelt it since.

The saying ‘If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten’ springs to mind. This correlates to: ‘If you keep failing in the same way, you haven’t learnt from your mistakes.’ Don’t be afraid to fail, but do take the lessons that failure offers, otherwise you really have wasted the whole experience.

3. Take responsibility
Being able to acknowledge failure is a sign of maturity. Let’s be clear: everyone fails. Owning the failure and building the lessons from those failures into who you are is what makes you interesting and it’s what makes you experienced. Not taking responsibility for failure means you either weren’t paying attention or you haven’t learnt from your mistakes.

4. Find innovative solutions
Failure allows you to embrace other opportunities. How often do you hear about an actor who misses out on a ‘dream role’, only to win another role that leads to greater success?

Sometimes these other opportunities lead to a solution that you would not have been able to discover had you not failed in the first place. Adhesive brand 3M is always experimenting with new glue formulas. One formula failed as a glue but was perfect as a ‘repositionable adhesive’: perhaps you’ve heard of Post-it notes? I call that a win.

5. Develop the perfect blemish
"I don't trust people who haven't failed." A wry video about how failure can be good for your career.

Have a good weekend!

* The word was ‘abecedarian’, meaning ‘arranged alphabetically’ and ‘elementary’.

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