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The Value of Failure

“I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that do not work,” said Thomas Edison about his process of inventing the light bulb.
By Jablite

March 2014: Last week, BBC Radio 4 broadcast five short (15 mins each) programmes about the value of failure, drawing on examples from the arts, education, business, military and sport.

We were intrigued because, if you want to achieve anything from developing new products, increasing sales or turning a failing company around, then failure and risk have to be dealt with. But is failing something that we have all forgotten how to do?

Heather Hanbury, head teacher of a girl’s school, thinks the value of failure has been lost in the pursuit of success – she runs an annual Failure Week with the aim of teaching her students how to be resilient failures, to not expect success the first time, but to keep trying, she said:

“Perfectionism is the enemy of achievement; the more you seek to get everything right – the less you get done.  Perfection is not possible, nor should it be sought.”

It is sobering to be reminded that for the military, failure can be life-threatening. Yet, former air vice-marshal, Sean Bell, talked about the importance of having a “healthy risk appetite.”

“If you don’t take risks, you don’t fail, but you also can’t exploit opportunity” said Bell and described the necessity of making decisions without all the information available and the importance of “being comfortable in ambiguity.”

Military training is structured to create failure, followed by a re-group and, having learnt from that experience, taking on a task again and to finally succeed.

Bell who works in the business world these days, advocates that “risk is an essential ingredient of success and thus we must expect failure as inevitable.”

Bell ended the military episode with a long, inspiring quote by Roosevelt. We’ve decided to end this blog in a punchier – but we hope as relevant – way:

“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.”   Abraham Lincoln

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