“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”
Industrialist icon Henry Ford signalled a valuable lesson on how success and failure should be viewed with these words in 1922. “One who fears the future, who fears failure, limits his activities,” he elaborated.
For some people, failure is simply not an option because it can be seen as weak and counterproductive.
For others, like Mr Ford, failure is something that should be embraced and almost encouraged, because the benefits of doing so can be invaluable.
Naturally, failure can be a bad thing, but its negative elements are only really felt if lessons are not learnt. This is the view of Inventium CEO and Founder Amantha Imber, who said failure could be a powerful tool.
“If you fail and you learn nothing or don’t do anything differently, it is a bad thing,” she said. “But if you’re learning from failure and improving your behaviour, your thinking, your product, your service or improving something based on what you have learnt, then failure is very powerful.”
Dr Imber has first-hand experience of how powerful failure can be, as it led her to start her own business. Inventium is an innovations consultancy company that has helped more than 100,000 people since it began in 2007, and is one of the co-creators of the Australian Financial Review’s Most Innovative Companies list.
Prior to starting the company, Dr Imber went through a rigorous and comprehensive recruitment process that resulted in being told she was not good enough to be a facilitator or presenter.
“I was devastated,” she said. “It was very harsh feedback and it definitely knocked me back for a few days.”
Rather than dwell on her ‘failure’, Dr Imber took the criticism and rejection and used it to fuel her ambition and further her career.
“It was such a valuable failure,” she said. “Had I not failed I would not have started the business I have run for 10 years, which has been a real joy and really successful.”
Knowing how to deal with the failure is the best way to overcome it and use it to your advantage. The key message here is being open, honest and transparent in your assessment, according to Presentation Studio CEO and Founder Emma Bannister.
“If you’ve made a mistake then you’ve got to be really clear about what happened and learn from that,” she said.
“When giving feedback or assessing situations you should not hide things because that’s a very dangerous thing to do. Honesty is the only way you can really learn from failures or mistakes.”
Ms Bannister started her career as an introverted designer who could think of nothing worse than standing up in front of people and presenting to them.
Fast-forward to the present day and she leads a public speaking and presentation assistance company. So how did she successfully travel from one extreme to the other?
“I lost my fear of failure,” Ms Bannister said. “I put myself in a position that, at the time, was the scariest possible and I learnt so much from that experience. It made me think, ‘if I can do that, I can do anything’.”
Success too early
In discussing the topic of failure, both Dr Imber and Ms Bannister agreed there was a downside to achieving wide-ranging success early on in a business or in a person’s career. While everybody wants to be as successful as possible as soon as they can, there are benefits to stumbling a couple of times along the way.
“If you have not experienced significant failure and setbacks in life then it sets you up to be less resilient,” Dr Imber said.
“Failure and setbacks are really good things for the human character and, certainly, if we look at them in a constructive way it’s great at building our experience muscle.”
Ms Bannister said it was easy to get lulled into a false sense of security off the back of early successes.
“There is a great risk – and I know, I have done it – of doing well in one area and thinking you are going to be great at everything else. But most of the time, this is not the case,” she said.
“Failure allows us to create contingencies and creates an environment where we can appreciate success when it does come along.
“No-one starts out great; no-one is an Olympic athlete straight away. You have got to start with the basics, learn from your mistakes and develop as a business.
“Failure is a positive experience; you screw it up and you get better.”