Why Failure Is Crucial To Success The best of the best fail. It's how you respond that leads to success.
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In a recent interview, I was asked to reflect on the last decade of my company, Cloud for Good, and share what I would have changed along my journey. After a brief moment of reflection, I realized there was only one true answer: nothing. Don't get me wrong, I've made plenty of decisions that didn't work out. I've started lines of business that had to be ended prematurely, implemented thrown or revised procedures and made my share of wrong hires. But the truth is I don't view these momentary moments of adversity as failures — they are teaching and learning moments.
My company would not be in the position it is today if not for these mistakes, and I know I wouldn't be the person I am today without those bumps in the road.
Taking steps to success
Shortly after NBA superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo's team, the Milwaukee Bucks, were eliminated from the 2023 playoffs, a reporter asked him if he viewed the season as a failure. Coming into the season, the Bucks were projected to be one of the season's top contenders, and the team entered the playoffs as the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The Miami Heat would go on to defeat the Bucks in the first round of the playoffs, marking only the sixth time in NBA history an #8 seed defeated a #1 seed. Historical precedent and significance aside, Antetokounmpo was taken aback by the very question.
"Every year, you work towards something," the NBA star said. "It's not a failure. It's steps to success."
As entrepreneurs, we know all the buzzwords, self-help, and business development terms associated with this mindset. "Fail forward," "Fail fast, fail often," etc. It's true that to succeed, we must be open to truly failing, but we must consider these terms carefully and understand potential ramifications before failing for failure's sake.
As Antetokounmpo suggests, iteration is the key to truly growing and succeeding. Finding success requires opening oneself up to the possibility of failure. Still, the central conceit of this mindset is that mistakes will be learned from, perspective will be granted, and we, as entrepreneurs, will become better prepared to face our challenges with each passing challenge.
However, all of this is easier said than done, so let me share with you a few of the most important lessons I've learned on my journey to success.
Maintain an even keel
I'm a big believer in celebrating success, but I also believe in the virtue of humility. Much in the way that we must acknowledge failure without letting it demoralize us, we must also do the same for success and not let short gains go to our heads and cloud our judgment. By staying humble, you can ensure that successes are followed by properly acknowledging the teamwork or sacrifice that made that success possible.
It also becomes easier to view failures or setbacks as learning opportunities when you zoom out and understand that ups and downs, wins and losses, are all part of the cyclical game we play. Don't get too down on yourself if things don't work out as planned. Just figure out what went wrong and do the work to establish a better path forward. Likewise, don't become self-aggrandizing after a few wins, as the pendulum might swing to the other end before you know it.
Accept change, expect improbability
My experience is based in the technology field, which is continuously refining and evolving. In my line of business, those that succeed are those that are most prepared for the next update, or the next big product launch, to come around and drastically alter the realities of our daily working lives. While tech does move faster than many other industries, the fact remains that every single industry will eventually weed out those beholden to routines and old ways of thinking.
Failure should always precipitate change. When failure strikes, you are doing yourself a disservice if you aren't looking to refine or reinvent the thought processes that preceded the failure. Embracing change and understanding that the implausible can and will happen allows us to protect our mental health and encourage progressive development in our thinking. Sometimes the best things we can do is reflect on the changes we didn't see coming so that when the next round of acceleration arrives, our mental states will be better prepared to adjust accordingly.
Build a team worth relying on
One of the quickest ways to assure destruction is believing you have all the answers. While it's true that entrepreneurs must have the self-confidence and self-reliance necessary to forge their own path, it would be foolish to think success is found entirely independently. The most successful people have the most well-built teams comprised of diverse thought leaders unafraid of telling you "no" or "maybe there's a better way to do this."
Teams are there to help filter ideas, provide feedback and help create new paths forward when failure inevitably strikes. Learn to cherish the brainstorming sessions where 10, 50 and 100 ideas are thrown around in search of the one winning idea. Prepare for the meetings that need another meeting and maybe another after that. Good ideas win when the right people gather around the table. Those you allow into your inner circle will have had their fair share of failures too, and they will be the trust advisors you seek as a result of growing from those failures.
Understand that highs and lows shouldn't distract you from daily consistency. Change is a certainty worth preparing for, and no one truly succeeds on their own. Failure often goes hand in hand with ambition. Remember this the next time a product launch goes awry, a promising new hire turns out to be a poor fit, or your next quarter's earnings projections fall short.
If you're built for the long haul, failure won't stop you, but handling failure, the wrong way just might.