in Leadership

Too Much Celebration Around Failure?

Failure is glorified. In a number of start up events that I have attended, people eloquently talk about how many times they failed before their venture took off. Successful entrepreneurs and role models tell us that failure is good.

Arthur Rock, one of Apple’s board members, said, “The best thing ever to happen to Steve is when we fired him, told him to get lost” (Isaacson 2011). The tough love gave him the opportunity to become wiser and more mature. (Source)

But there is other side of this feel-good failure thing. Here is an interesting take on the other side of the argument:

I also think not all failure is good. What’s important is being able to tell the difference between the productive failures, where you were a bit overly ambitious but learned important lessons, and wasteful failures, where you’re just throwing out ideas without thinking them through beforehand.

We learn how to walk only after we stumble a few times. We learn by doing, failing, adapting, learning and then applying that learning all over again. But in my view, too much celebration of failure sets us up for more failure and breeds complacence. We  may be setting a wrong precedence for aspiring entrepreneurs and leaders. If we fail, we should certainly learn our lessons and there is no stigma attached to it – but only after we have done everything we could have to avoid failure.

I also believe that we should not let our failures stop us from attempting again. Remaining optimistic and hopeful in the face of failure is a critical life skill. 

In the same context, I read this Washington Post article “Failure porn: There’s too much celebration of failure and too little fear” with great interest which says,

People seem to forget that start-up founders can endure years of psychological trauma for naught, employees can lose their jobs and investors can lose significant money. Rather than being a springboard to greatness, failure can simply be devastating.

Paypal’s co-founder Peter Thiel makes an important point as he refers to the concept of ‘accomodating a failure’ as a dangerous one:

“Every time a company fails it is not a beautiful working out of the Darwinian free market and it is not a fantastic educational experience for all involved. Every death is a tragedy and that is even true of deaths of companies.

Not all failures are worth celebrating, especially when stakes are high. And just because failure is marketed well does not mean we should buy it as easily.

Your thoughts?