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Why Failure is Good for Business

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By Townes Haas   |    September 5, 2014   |    11:12 AM

Business failures usually aren’t catastrophic

Success is often preceded by failure. Heck, sometimes it takes many business failures to finally reach our professional goals. In our hyper-competitive world it’s difficult to remember that screwing up happens to every single person trying to make it.

Nearly every successful business owner has failed at some point in his or her career

Failure isn’t something that only happens to new small business owners, or to those doomed to eternal failure. After all, how do you think the big guns got to where they are? Through a series of colossal business failures and mishaps, of course.

Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper because the editor said he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Now, it’s hard to imagine a childhood without Walt’s infamous, and imaginative, movies.

Vera Wang started off as a talented figure skater, but didn’t make the U.S. Olympic team. When she was an editor at Vogue, she failed to land the position of editor-in-chief. Since she now has a wildly successful fashion empire, she’d probably be the first to say that failure in business is often the predecessor to success in new, and better, ventures.

These are only two examples amongst a ton of “mistakes” made by famous businesspeople. In hindsight, they would all probably agree that these setbacks actually helped them refocus their talents. Check out this list of successful people who failed at first from Business Insider for even more proof that “failure” often leads to far better outcomes.

Why do entrepreneurs need failure?

Failure isn’t just acceptable; it’s downright vital for business growth. Success after success leads to complacency and a lack of innovation. Success requires a certain amount of comfort with taking risks, and mishaps are a great reminder that there’s always an element of risk in business.

Failing to land a new client can force a consultant or freelancer to reevaluate their approach, which could net them better clients in the future. If most entrepreneurs weren’t failing at least occasionally there would never be any reason to grow or test out new projects.

How business owners, freelancers, consultants, and everyone else can learn from failure in 5 easy steps

Of course, learning from business failures is easier said than done. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the tiny details behind our mistakes. The next time something feels like a huge flop, though, consider working through these simple steps.

1. Avoid the urge to assign blame. It’s easy to turn someone else into a scapegoat, whether it’s a coworker, a client, or yourself. Blame is counterproductive and will make everyone feel worse.

2. Take responsibility. Acceptance is always the first step to begin recovering from grief, and it’s the same with failure. Acknowledge the failure, and if it actually was your fault, own up to it… even if only to yourself.

3. Evaluate what went wrong. Was there a lack of planning involved? An interpersonal problem? Are you not completely excited about a business venture? Spend some time considering the why behind a business failure.

4. Try to embrace failure. Now that you know what happened and you aren’t blaming everyone but yourself, really accept it and try to learn from your mistakes.

5. Identify lessons that you can take away from the experience. Maybe you’ll realize that you’re stretched too thin, and can’t maintain your current workload. Perhaps you’re in the wrong industry. There could be limitless reasons to explain why you made a particular mistake, but you’ll need a good deal of introspection. Put egos aside for a while and think critically.

Remember, it’s only a true failure if you didn’t learn something from it. 

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