How to make the most of Failure

Some of the world’s most successful business people have one thing in common; they celebrate failure and learn from it. James Dyson famously said, “Enjoy failure and learn from it. You can never learn from success.” James Dyson is no stranger to the power of prototypes and learning from mistakes. He made more than 5,100 prototypes of the Dyson Vacuum Cleaner before getting it right.

Albert Einstein said, “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new”. Wherever we look in the world of business, the most successful and innovative leaders have been the ones who weren’t afraid to fail and if they did, they learned from it.

In most businesses, even if management encourages experimentation, budgeting and risk management processes tend to promote predictability and efficiency. This leads people to do everything possible to avoid mistakes. Attitude to failure differs considerably from one country to the next.

The best and hardest work is often done in a spirit of adventure and challenge. Mistakes are an inevitable consequence of doing something new. As such, there is a tremendous source of value in determining if your people have the right attitude to failure. Here are a few ways to learn from mistakes in your business.

Study unsuccessful projects

Document the lessons learned about clients, market trends, your firm, your processes, your team, and yourself. This is likely to be a painful exercise until it becomes fully embedded in the culture of your business.

Make an impact

The management team should gather frequently to discuss their own failures, and then share the lessons learned with everyone in the wider firm. This builds trust and goodwill and encourages future experiments across the business. Parameters should be set and communicated across the team – it is not okay to be reckless, but trying something new should be encouraged.

Identify trends

Conduct a firm-wide review to identify patterns. If failure rates are too high, you may need to tighten up systems and controls across the business. However, if they are too low, consider encouraging your people to be more willing to experiment.


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