Learn from Failures While Avoiding Disaster


Thomas Edison, the great American inventor, often spoke of his many failures.  When giving a talk to sixth-grade students, I paraphrased Edison’s message as, “For every success in the laboratory, I had ninety-nine failures.”  Then I asked, “What is the significance of that remark?”

One youngster promptly replied, “It shows what he might have been able to do if he hadn’t been so dumb.”   He had already learned that failure was a bad thing.

Yet, most great successes were preceded by many failures.  Henry Ford (The Ford Motor Company) was broke five times.  R. H. Macy (Macy’s Department Store) failed seven times.

Michael Jordan, the basketball icon, who was once cut from his high-school team said, “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.  That’s why I succeed.”

Successful leaders do avoid annihilation such as experienced by Sears, Eastman Kodak, Studebaker and so on.

Author, Sam Walker, believes veteran leaders rarely fail dramatically simply because they have failed before.  They have learned to avoid the fatal error.

The challenge is to find the sweet spot between failures that lead to growth and those that take you out of the game.  When taking on a perilous assignment, for which you have little experience, seek counsel from those who have been there.