Making the Most of Failure

“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.” ~ Abraham Lincoln   In Richa
August 19, 2010

“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.”
~ Abraham Lincoln


In Richard Branson’s recent American Express OPEN Forum article, “Entrepreneurs Have Nothing to Fear But Fear of Failure," he talks about how stories of failure are most interesting to him because they're how he learns the most powerful lessons.  I agree with that notion, particularly the two phases of failure he emphasizes:  the initial failure and the aftermath (how to bounce back).  Here, I explore two other fresh takes on the topic of failure and resiliency.


The Failure Imperative


Charlene Li is the founder of the Altimeter Group and co-author of "Groundswell" and, most recently, "Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead." In case you missed it, she also wrote a robust article for The Conference Board Review, Summer 2010 titled, “The Failure Imperative (TFI).”  It is worth reading not once but a dozen times to truly respect and understand the importance of dealing with failure head-on to learn from it and not waste the experience.


According to Li’s TFI, “One big barrier to adopting a culture of transparency and openness has been a systemic and cultural aversion to failure.”  She goes on to say, “… that a key part of being an open leader is the ability to effectively deal with failure, because even with the best structures and planning in place, things go wrong.” 


As pointed out in my earlier American Express OPEN Forum contribution, “The Art of Bold Innovation,” (refer to Point No. 7), how and why we decide to take risks has little to do with a lack of brilliant ideas and far more to do with fostering a supportive work environment where, as Li basically says, it’s okay to fail. 


The crux of her article states, “there are four actions that an open leader can take to ensure that the organization is resilient in the face of failure and able to learn and grow from challenges: Acknowledge that failure happens; encourage dialogue to foster trust; separate the person from the failure; and learn from your mistakes.”


I am sure Branson would agree – especially on the last point.




Entrepreneur and business owner Barry Moltz, however, says we don't necessarily learn from our mistakes. 


He believes that once you recognize this, as well as the fact that failure happens in the normal life cycle of a business, you start failing and "bouncing" until you achieve success.


Such is the underlying premise of Moltz’s book, “

Bounce!  Failure, Resiliency, and Confidence to Achieve Your Next Great Success.”  It is a book about “the process of bounding back, of moving forward, falling back, and shooting ahead again, and through all that, building up and then drawing on personal reserves of energy.”

Unlike Branson and Li, who feel failure allows you to learn from mistakes, Moltz believes not every mistake carries a lesson for us.  If you think back on your failures or mistakes, Moltz is spot on.


The trick, according to Moltz, is to bounce.  He says, “When we possess bounce, we are able to move forward from any event, situation, or outcome — good or bad — to the next place where a decision can be made based on the choices currently available to us.  We develop the best process we can and then make a clear decision.”    


Once you realize that it’s okay to be honest about your failures, goals are much more fun to go after and most likely easier to achieve.


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Global business expert Laurel Delaney is the founder of

GlobeTrade (a Global TradeSource, Ltd. company).  She also is the creator of “Borderbuster,” an e-newsletter, and The Global Small Business Blog, all highly regarded for their global small business coverage.  You can follow her on Twitter @LaurelDelaney