Failure is an option!

I have long been an advocate for the principle of failure being a natural part of discovery and I have often spoken in universities on the topic of Failure as an Option. I even advocate starting a failure log so as to identify lessons from failures and I constantly remind people that the only failure when falling down is not to get up and try again.

Recently, when I was updating my presentations I searched for more examples of famous failures and was surprised by the results. Many will know of the dropping out of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Richard Branson from education, but perhaps some of these other examples of so called failures will surprise you.

In the area of business Henry Ford had five failed businesses before he founded the Ford Motor Company; Colonel Sanders had his famous chicken recipe rejected 1009 times by restaurants before it was taken up; Walt Disney was fired from his first job because ‘he lacked imagination and had no good ideas’; Akio Morita who founded Sony started with an electric rice cooker which burned rather than cooked rice and only sold 100; and Soichiro Honda was actually refused an engineering job by Toyota!

In science Albert Einstein did not speak until he was four and did not read until he was seven. His parents thought he might be mentally handicapped. Eventually he was expelled from school. Likewise, Charles Darwin was told off by his father for being lazy and dreamy and was considered to be below average intellect.

Politics is not immune from failures on the way to the top. Winston Churchill failed at school and lost every election for public office until his appointment as Prime Minister at the age of 62. Abraham Lincoln was another who failed on the way up. He went to war as a captain and returned as a private, he had several failed businesses and lost several elections before becoming one of the most successful Presidents of the United States.

Probably the most fertile area for initial failures is in art and sports. Harrison Ford was told after his first film that he did not have what it takes to be a star; Vincent Van Gogh sold only one picture in his lifetime; the first Dr Seuss book was rejected by 27 publishers;Elvis Presley was fired by the Grand Ole Opry after one performance; Steven Spielberg was rejected by the the University of California School of Theatre Film and Television 3 times and Stan Smith, who won Wimbledon, the US Open and 8 Davis Cups was rejected from being a ball ball for being too clumsy and uncoordinated.

What is interesting about all of these people is that none of them let the opinions of others stop them from following their dreams and believing in themselves. Too many people in this world are too quick to write others off and too many people who have initial failures allow that write off to happen.

People need to realise that failure is part of the process of development. Just because we fell down the first time we started to try and walk it didn’t mean we gave up on walking. What we need to do is to learn from the failure and work to do it differently next time using the new found knowledge.

Failure is definitely an event and not a person as the examples in this blog demonstrate.

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