“Far from being a sign of intellectual inferiority, the capacity to err is crucial to human cognition.” — Kathryn Schulz, author, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error
Failure is a part of success. Most of us know that, but we still see it as a negative.
They say that half of all new businesses don’t make it past the five-year mark, and just 25 percent still exist 15 years after they begin. It’s kind of a wonder that any of us go into business knowing that. Yet, we do. New ideas propel us forward, and even after a failed business attempt, we’re on to something new.
That explains why researchers from Stanford University and the University of Michigan found that entrepreneurs who shut down their first business ventures are more likely to be successful in their second business.
What makes those second businesses succeed? Sure, it could be luck, but it may also be the fact that they found positive lessons arise amid their first attempts. They learned from their mistakes, and saw their mishaps as stepping stones.
Why You Should Fail
Take Sara Blakely, the woman who founded the shapewear company, Spanx. She failed the LSAT exam twice, so being a lawyer didn’t work out. An offer to be a chipmunk at Disney World and seven years as a fax machine salesperson weren’t fulfilling, either. Once she came up with the idea for Spanx, though, she soon became one of the youngest self-made female billionaires in America.
The key to her success, she says, was failure.
She recalls her father often asking, “What have you failed at this week?” Blakely told Squawk Box.
“My dad growing up encouraged me and my brother to fail. The gift he was giving me is that failure is (when you are) not trying versus the outcome. It’s really allowed me to be much freer in trying things and spreading my wings in life,” she said.
She’s not the only person who realized that failure could be a good thing. But she goes beyond just seeing it as a “blessing in disguise” and now advocates that we embrace and view it as a healthy, progressive aspect of life.
Asking the deep questions such as — “Why did I fail? What can I take from this? Can anything better come out of this?” — are often the path toward turning a disappointment into a thriving success. If you’re like Blakely, you can live to tell about it and inspire others at the same time.
Dr. Vinit Desai, an assistant professor of management at the University of Colorado Denver Business School, published a study in the Academy of Management Journal, examining companies that launch shuttles, satellites, and rockets. It’s a field where it’s hard—literally—to hide failures. He found that the groups learned more from failure than success, and they retained those insights longer.
What’s so “bad” about that?
Nothing. In fact, it shows that failure can be good for us, kind of the same way that Dr. Kelly McGonigal teaches about the wonderful things that can come from being stressed.
Shifting to Success
Perhaps the key to getting the most from failure is to start viewing it positively. Yes, when something doesn’t go how we wanted it to—say, in the case of that rocket that malfunctioned or a business that couldn’t turn a profit—it may not feel so good. That doesn’t mean it can’t be helpful.
In changing your perspective on failure, you just may be able to move aside from some of its uncomfortable feelings. Once you can open up that space to accept the positives, it merely takes a little creativity to recognize all the constructive things that come with falling flat on your face.
And after you discover all the lessons, and figure out how to use them to your advantage, there’s nowhere to go but up.