The Importance of Failure in Success
“The best things in life don’t come easily”, often quoted amongst those older and wiser to those in the midst of challenging times seeking guidance. This sentiment certainly rang true in our most recent research, Winning Attitudes; where we interviewed 42 successful entrepreneurs, CEO’s, media personalities and Olympians, investigating what it took to reach their heady heights. We learnt that their paths to success were not without trials and tribulations, despite their achievements far exceeding the norm. In fact, a core theme that emerged from the interviews was how the Winners approached failure. Here, Katie Piper aptly summarises the prevailing thematic perspective;
“Failure is practicing for success” Katie Piper (Presenter/Entrepreneur, Katie Piper Foundation).
We hypothesised from our research that failure would play a key role in understanding the components of a Winning Attitude. For instance consider Steven Spielberg, a world renowned film-maker who failed to get into film school at the University of Southern California. For Spielberg this did not serve as a deterrent, who went on to graduate from a different Californian university with a degree in English. In this example a Negative Force served as a catalyst, a catalyst to persevere and persist rather than a reason to quit. This type of Negative Force (defined as significant adversity, failure or loss) emerged as a key theme within our research, with our Winners referring to setbacks as key to building their resilience and motivation. In fact, we found that many of our Winners experienced such Negative Forces during childhood, or whilst growing up, something which is also true for Spielberg who recalls being bullied during childhood.
“In high school, I got smacked and kicked around. Two bloody noses. It was horrible” Steven Spielberg, quoted by Bernard Weinraub (NY Times, December 12, 1993).
The Negative Forces cited by our interviewees served as a marker for something which they wanted to move away from, and as such remain a sustained force which continues to influence their success beyond their current successes.
“My father used to put me down, that drove me to prove myself. It gave me determination and focus.” Clive Jacobs, Entrepreneur, Holiday Autos, Travel Weekly (UK) and The Caterer
Having a Negative Force, although important in harnessing that Winning Attitude, only tells us about the underlying drivers that play a critical part in stimulating success beyond measure. Delving into this further we found that Winners exhibited particular Strengths in order to navigate and overcome failure; they remained Composed and Positive. They rolled up their sleeves and faced the challenge, focusing on how they could overcome the challenge rather than the difficulties they now face. Attitudinally, they are proactive and react with gusto and positivity.
“Although failure is not an option, it happens and you learn from it.” Harry Rilling, Mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut
“Even if negative, we have to take every opportunity and turn it into a positive. We have to use the negative experiences to be better.” Clive Jacobs, Entrepreneur, Holiday Autos, Travel Weekly (UK) and The Caterer
So, what does this mean for us? Firstly, that failure, adversity or loss can be conceptualised as a force for good and turned into something positive; a reason to take that risk. Secondly, that how you react or cope with perceived failures may influence the outcome of subsequent actions. This boils down to a key message, that failure and the will to overcome hardship, is not a hindrance but an opportunity, an opportunity critical for success. Perhaps next time you find yourself faced with failure and adversity ask yourself “how can I use this and turn it into a positive? How can I turn this experience/situation into a success? How can this make me a Winner?”.
To read more around what makes up a Winning Attitude from the point of view of 42 business savvy corporate CEOs and edgy entrepreneurs, committed Olympic and sporting stars through to charismatic media personalities.