Failure Can Lead to Success … If You Learn from It

Nobody sets out to fail. Nobody plans to make mistakes. But perhaps they should—because everyone knows you can learn a lot from failure.

While nobody likes to fail, studies show it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Mistakes may highlight flaws that, when overcome, lead to success.

After years of failed electrical experiments, Benjamin Franklin finally achieved success. When he did, he claimed he hadn’t failed but instead had discovered 10,000 ways electricity doesn’t work.

Franklin’s positive attitude got results, whereas fear of failure may stop you in your tracks.

Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson coined the phrase “psychological safety” to describe feeling secure enough to take risks and to accept the possibility of making mistakes.

This is an important concept because it’s hard to make progress without it. If individuals worry that major repercussions are sure to follow an error, they’ll keep doing what they’ve always done. And presto—opportunities for innovation, creativity, and change evaporate.

In fact, a company with a culture that learns from mistakes can gain a competitive advantage. As Edmondson points out, “a culture that makes it safe to admit and report on failure can—and in some organizational contexts must—coexist with high standards for performance.”

Today, companies must take every competitive advantage available—including learning from mistakes. Currently, however, those who do are few and far between. Notes Edmondson, “The wisdom of learning from failure is incontrovertible. Yet organizations that do it well are extraordinarily rare.”

It’s time to make your mistakes work for you.

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