Get All Access for $5/mo

Seth Godin: 'The Person Who Fails the Most Wins' But be strategic about your failures.

By Laura Entis

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Joi Ito | Wikimedia Commons
Seth Godin

Seth Godin wears many hats: serial entrepreneur, prolific author, beloved blogger and inspirational speaker.

He's also a master at failure, mostly because he's done it so many times. "I think it's fair to say that I have failed more than most people," Godin said today from his onstage perch at New York City's Advertising Week. "And I'm super proud of that. Part of the rules of this game is, the person who fails the most wins."

While liberating, this presentation of failure as a trophy isn't new. Silicon Valley has long fetishized failure, to the point where "fail fast" has become an informal industry mantra; it's not uncommon for business leaders and entrepreneurs to publicly present their failures like so many badges.

But as Godin goes on to clarify, failure is a skill. You can do it successfully, or you can fail at failure. "If you fail too big, you don't get to fail anymore. If you never fail, then you haven't done anything," he said. The key is to find and consistently hit the sweet spot between those two poles. "If you're failing consistently in a way where you get to keep playing, that's pretty cool."

Related: How Famed Entrepreneur Seth Godin Built His Tribe

On one hand, Godin encouraged the 200-plus audience to pursue their "art," no matter the lack of corresponding monetary gain or critical praise:

You have to get to the point where you say, this is what I'm going to make. And if [the audience] doesn't get it, that's ok…sooner or later they may get it. In Van Gogh's case, they didn't get it until he was dead. But that's part of the deal.

At the same time, Godin gave a big nod to practicality. While the ability to risk failure is the essential in the pursuit of greatness, it doesn't hurt to stack the deck in your favor and be strategic about your approach. If you feel your true artistic calling is to make toothpick sculptures, maybe take the process out of the woods and onto Kickstarter, where far-out projects often find an audience. Does it mean it will definitely gain traction? Of course not. But at the very least you've put yourself in a position where it's a possibility.

Related: Why Brand Ambassadors Are Earned, Not Hired

This balance – between failing too softly and failing too hard – is nicely encapsulated by Godin's description of skate skiing, a sport he only recently discovered "The entire sport is, the person who leans forward the most wins," he said. During his first lesson, he asked the instructor "what happens if you lean forward too much?"

To which the instructor, not unsurprisingly, replied: "You land on your face."

For Godin, that tension – leaning forward as far as possible without landing face first on the ice – is skate skiing's main draw. "It's what makes people get hooked on skate skiing," he said. "It's the feeling I look for in every project I decide to do."

In other words, don't hold yourself back. But don't aim to fall on your face, either. Instead, search for that magical spot where you push against your own limitations in pursuit of real victory.

In skate skiing and in life "you feel this moment where there might not be a net, where it might not work," said Godin. And then you continue on anyway.

Related: Seth Godin on Dealing With Critics and Rejection

Laura Entis is a reporter for Fortune.com's Venture section.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Business Solutions

Increase Productivity with This Microsoft 365 Subscription, Now $25 Off

It can make the entrepreneur life a lot easier.

Business News

Apple Pay Later Is Ending. Here's What's Taking Its Place.

The program was available for less than a year.

Leadership

This Artist Answered a Businessman's 'Powerful' Question — Then His Work Became 'the Poster Child for Juneteenth': 'Your Network Really Becomes Your Net Worth'

Reginald Adams was the executive director of a Houston-based art museum for more than a decade before he decided to launch his own public art and design firm.

Leadership

Harvard Business School Professor Says 65% of Startups Fail for One Reason. Here's How to Avoid It.

Team alignment isn't nice to have -- it's critical for running a successful business.

Business News

Here's What Companies Are Open and Closed on Juneteenth 2024

Since it became a holiday in 2021, Juneteenth has been recognized by some major corporations as a paid day off.

Growing a Business

I Hit $100 Million in Annual Revenue by Being More Transparent — Here Are the 3 Strategies That Helped Me Succeed

Three road-tested ways to be more transparent and build relationships that can transform your business — without leaving you feeling nightmarishly over-exposed.