Conquering the “Fear of Failure” on the Road to Success

Conquering the “Fear of Failure” on the Road to Success

Conquering the “Fear of Failure” on the Road to Success


Browse any American business publication or website and you will find many publications on the value of making and learning from mistakes.

The acceptance of failure is inherent in the American culture, a culture that celebrates the individual and each citizen’s right to believe in themselves.

And, while defeats are often glamorized by a generation of people brought up in a everybody must feel-good culture , and who are not afraid to talk about their misadventures the value of failure is more than just a good story.

At the Annual Meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association in Y 2008, author JK Rowling said that “failure meant a stripping away of the inessential”.

She added: “I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me… And, so, rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

The darkest hour is just before Dawn

Inventor Sir James Dyson went through 15 years and 5,127 failed prototypes before presenting the world with the iconic Dyson DCO1 bagless vacuum cleaner that operates on breakthrough technology.

Earlier in history, Henry Ford bungled 2 automobile-production ventures, before incorporating Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) and revolutionizing industrial production in the US and Europe.

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”– Henry Ford

There are valuable lessons to be learnt from every setback, so much so that there is a Conference dedicated to sharing failure stories.

Started in San Francisco in Y 2009, Fail Con is a 1-day business conference for entrepreneurs to “study their own and others’ failures and prepare for success.” Fail Con now holds events in South America, Europe, India, Japan and Singapore.

Fail Con is a sign of a business world that is becoming increasingly accepting of screw-ups.

Companies around the world are beginning to seek candidates who have experienced failed ventures. Perhaps, in the light of the Lehman Brothers collapse in Y 2008, the bankruptcy of Chrysler and General Motors (NYSE:GM) in Y 2009, and other meltdowns globally, corporations and individuals are reminded about failure.

Speaking at the Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Big Tent Event in November last year, the CEO of Deal Market, Urs Haeusler, observed that investors in Asia and Europe shun those who have failed, whereas in America, “failing is part of learning, and you stand up and do better the next time.”

He said: “The venture capitalists and the people who finance the business also think the same way.”

For corporations, moving away from Zero tolerance for mistakes is not only about discovering talent through giving 2nd chances, it is also a necessary mindset shift, with innovation becoming Key to growth in the business world today.

For individuals, failure is a necessary stage for almost every entrepreneur, and only when one is able to “fail Upward” ,as is often the case in Hollywood and the entertainment business, can he walk the road to success.

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”– Winston Churchill

Over many years I have learned that many companies and individuals alike struggle to get out of the “anti-failure” mode. Large corporations prefer people with a spotless track record when it comes to engaging C-Suite personnel.

As for most individuals, the allure of almost-guaranteed financial success via a tried-and-tested career path poses a disincentive to striking out on on one’s own.

Fortunately, some educational institutions are designing ways to foster entrepreneurial spirit.

Innovation and entrepreneurship have become Key elements of growth for many countries, and we are seeing increasing need for college, university graduates to have entrepreneurial mindsets.

As it is in the US, innovation and entrepreneurship are in the spotlight in the Far East and the Middle East, so the future looks bright for students interested in creating start-ups as a career option.

This kind of initiative contributes directly to fostering an alternative career path for some students, increasing the number of new start-ups, and enhancing the diversity of the future workforce in emerging economic regions.

Notably, it is one thing to nurture a generation of eager entrepreneurs, and another to groom future business leaders with the real ablility to weather and learn from failure/s.

Even if a start-up fails, as most do, there is so much people can gain from the exposure and experience.

Sadly though, for those outside of the nurturing ecosystem of caring mentors, finding support is not as easy.

The challenge of moving away from perfectionism is to not cross a line between celebrating smart failures and incentivizing poor performance (as is so much in vogue today in America).

Society’s critics must learn that there is middle ground between a performance culture and learning culture that empowers those who are not afraid to make mistakes, yet keep them accountable for their actions.

Recently, I read that IBM Research (NYSE:IBM) measures staff performance through 1 and 3 year frames. And by doing so, staff members are incentivised to aim for long-term victories by investing in short-term setbacks. The payout for the 3-year assessment can neutralize the costs of the inevitable mistakes made in the early stages of innovation. A proof of reasoning for real leaders to keep in mind.

50 odd years ago my business mentor, John Francis Xavier O’Grady told me, “Paul, there are no negatives in life, everything happens for a reason, figure it out and make it work for you.”

And in remembrance of an American Champion and cultural Icon this: “If my mind can conceive it, if my heart can believe it, I can accomplish it” – Mohammed Ali

Have a terrific weekend.


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