Top 5 Ways to Turn Failure into Advantage

By Liz Stevens

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing” – Henry Ford

Trying, failing and succeeding are part of the business environment. No one succeeds without trying, and no one ever tried without failing at least occasionally. Here are some tips for finding the value in the inevitable failures experienced by those trying to succeed.

In Every New Environment and Each Stage of Growth

Any business, whether new or expanding, must go through trial and error to advance. New businesses always are going out on a limb; will the limb hold or fail? A business moving into a new market can get nowhere without taking those first risky steps.

In all endeavors, there is potential for achievement and the risk of failure. The odds often initially favor defeat, but they trend toward success with repeated enlightened attempts. When starting a new business or expanding an existing one, expect mistakes to be made; the key is to be ready to react to mistakes by adapting, adjusting and trying again.

Failure is Valuable

Every experience has value but sometimes it takes effort to identify it, especially when it comes to the value of failure. While not welcoming failure, successful businesspeople know that it will occur; they do not fear it or avoid reflecting on it. They know that failure can be a constructive and necessary aspect of learning, growing and improving.

When people avoid acknowledging failure and examining it, they miss a golden opportunity – to learn from their mistakes. When university researchers conducted studies gauging people’s ability to learn from failures, they found something surprising: people often “forget” about their own mistakes but can easily learn from the mistakes of others.

What helps people learn from their own failures rather than forgetting them? Choosing to view failure as a learning experience rather than as a loss is a good starting point. Approaching failure as an opportunity to discover why the failure occurred and then to apply those lessons moving forward can remove the stigma of defeat.

Own Failure and Seek Feedback

Successful business leaders know that it can be beneficial to examine failure; they openly own their failures and ask for honest feedback. Two things manifest from taking this stance: leaders model a trait for others to emulate, and leaders receive helpful input for addressing the cause of the failure.

One way to cultivate a workplace that makes the most out of failure is to institute a business culture with a healthy failure philosophy. During interviews, ask about candidates’ attitudes toward failure. During onboarding, describe the company’s positive philosophy toward failure. In team meetings, acknowledge errors, then search for teachable moments. Leaders with the courage to freely admit screwups can help their teams to stop worrying about failing and, instead, concentrate on how the group can learn from its failures.

Analyze Failure

The first step in analysis is to identify the thing to be examined. Don’t waste time analyzing the company’s successes; instead, use that precious time to dig into the company’s failures. Examine them closely with a post-failure audit, including analyzing the variables and their weaknesses like a scientist would do following an experiment. Performing such an audit with other company leaders and managers in attendance can yield additional benefits. Discussing why an endeavor did not succeed and what lessons can be derived may spark another team member to have an “aha” moment about another project with similar vulnerabilities.

Limit Retrospection

Accept the inevitability of failure, own it, acknowledge its worth, find its lessons. Reflect but do not wallow. Then carry on.