Let’s clear up something about success. We focus too much on success – and not enough on the real meat of the story – failure – the other F-word that nobody wants to talk about.
There are scores of books that promise to reveal the secrets of success. Some of them contain helpful insights but collectively, they’re dangerous. Why? Because they’ve spawned the idea that success is easy. That the road to success follows a smooth trajectory – you start at A and before you know it, after following a pleasant scenic route, you’ll arrive at S(uccess). The F word rarely rates a mention.
A quick review of brands, companies and individuals that have achieved great success reveals that this is rubbish.
It shows you that success is not the result of a ‘recipe’ or a process and that the road to it rarely unfolds in a straight line. Success, rather, is often a by-product of failure.
It’s almost a fact that you can’t achieve success without some kind of failure somewhere along the line. But it’s not just inevitable. It’s necessary. The logic is simple – one of best ways to do something really well is to do it really badly first. Failure shows you what doesn’t work – and knowing what doesn’t work often provides the quickest route to discovering what does. It forces you, your product and your company/brand to evolve from something ordinary to something better.
Somehow we’ve come to demonise failure and have duped ourselves into believing we can bypass it. Yet you’ll be hard pressed to find a success story in the world of business that doesn’t feature failures big and small. The message is clear – the road to success is through failure, not around it.
Study the biographies of the great innovators of our time and you’ll find they share on attribute in particular – an immunity to failure. While failure might level the average person and scare them off the path altogether, it just doesn’t bother these people as much. Or maybe it does bother them but it doesn’t stop them. They get over it and they find another way. They keep moving. And they don’t care what anyone else thinks about them or what they’re doing.
Great leaders and innovators, it appears, accept failure as part of the job description. Not the most fun part of the job but still part of the job, nonetheless.
I hate to talk about Steve Jobs and Apple (because the world is kind of talked-out about him) but he is a perfect case in point. In 1985 Jobs became a ‘failure’ when he was ousted from the company he co-foundered. It was 11 years before he rejoined Apple as CEO. In the 90s the brand itself struggled, with many in the industry predicting its imminent demise for years.
In Apple’s case failure led not to liquidation and obscurity but world domination. See, failure is not so bad after all.