The Most Valuable Lessons Learned from Failure


It’s an unsettling reality that most new ventures fail — 70 to 80 percent if you’re measuring success by projected return on investment, according to Harvard Business School. You jump in head first with full confidence and high hopes — and then you fall flat on your face so hard that it hurts. What’s an up and coming CEO to do? You get right back up and try again — that’s a lesson you learned when you were five years old. Rest assured that the same principle holds true today.

Failure is responsible for stronger and smarter entrepreneurs

“But here’s the good news,” said HBS’ Carmen Nobel. “Experienced entrepreneurs know that running a company that eventually fails can actually help a career, but only if the executives are willing to view failure as a potential for improvement.” The reality is that failure can make you a better leader — but you need to embrace, learn from, and grow from it. You need to accept and talk about it with your mentors and fellow business leaders.

Back to the drawing board: look for good advice

“Even the most successful people get stuck sometimes, and in these moments, advice makes all the difference,” wrote Dan Martell for the Clarity Blog. “From life to love, business, and health, the insight of others is invaluable.” You don’t have to deal with failure alone. In fact, without the help of others, you may not even realize what exactly went wrong. Understanding the picture means looking beyond yourself — which means reaching out to others who’ve been there before you.

Don’t hide: embrace the pain

Failure might be normal, but it hurts, so stop pretending that you’re wearing armor. You’ll see bad moments, and you’ll see terrible moments. There’s no need to pretend like nothing happened. “There worst moment is when you have to tell your staff,” LUXr CEO Janice Fraser said in an NPR article. “You have these people who, beyond reason, have put their trust in you. And you have to look them in the eye and say, ‘I’m sorry, this isn’t going to work.’ It’s always when the money’s running out…because you keep going until the money runs out. At the end, it’s just you and one or two other people, filing papers with the state and packing up the boxes. And that is not fun.”

Failure is painful. Failure is normal. Failure is human. It’s okay if you need a few minutes to frown — there’s no need to pretend otherwise.

Survival is priority #1 Nobody becomes an entrepreneur because they expect the worst to happen —  but sometimes it just does. And when it does, you need to do more than hold your head above water. You need to adapt. You need to keep your team motivated, healthy, and pushing towards the finish line. “In order to survive, we must dedicate the totality of ourselves to it,” wrote business owner Craig Reiss in an article for Entrepreneur. “This is very difficult to do. Concentrating on survival instead of focusing on success runs counter to the motivations and self-confidence that led us to be entrepreneurs in the first place. Yet it takes selfless dedication to strip away accommodations we’ve made to the realities we face.”

That’s right — to bounce back and fight back, we have to sometimes operate in a way that is completely counter intuitive to our instincts.

Business owner or not, what have been some of the most valuable lessons that you’ve learned from failure?


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