Why we need to prepare to fail (and 5 tips to rock at it!)

Some would say that as an entrepreneur, that a desire to win provides motivation and ultimately contributes towards success.  But what if that obsession to win and be seen to be winning, could in fact, make us fail?

In this guest blog, Lynn, founder of The Seasonal Touch, encourages us to not only embrace failure but to seek it out and be prepared to fail.


Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

How many times have you heard that phrase? My dad used to trot it out at least twice a day during exam season. He meant well of course, but two things in particular really bother me about that phrase.

The first is the idea that with enough preparation, you won’t fail. Well, for the perfectionists among us that’s a recipe for disaster! Cue ridiculously excessive preparation efforts that risk derailing the whole project! A cautionary tale for another day.

The second though is the inference that failure is the worst possible thing imaginable.

Well, like most things in life, it’s not that simple.

Take leaping into entrepreneurship for example. It’s a scary thing. Fact. For a huge percentage of entrepreneurs, failure is one of their biggest fears.

As Aaron Agius states in his article The 7 Fears All Entrepreneurs Must Conquer

Fear causes procrastination, avoidance behaviour, overwhelm and inaction. Yet it’s something that everyone experiences in business. Having the ability to be aware of fears and conquer them, however, is the only path to becoming a successful entrepreneur.

So how do we overcome our fear of failure?

Have you ever watched a baby learn to walk?

Why we need to prepare to fail baby-with-books-1251139

Unhampered by looming deadlines, free from trying to juggle a kajillion tasks, ego as yet unformed and devoid of damaging adult self talk our baby makes it’s first attempt.

Do they worry ‘What if that teddy I want gets moved before I get to it?’ or ‘What if I fall? Will I get laughed at?’

Nope! They have no concerns about early failures.

As infants we would never learn to do anything if we didn’t have the ability to repeatedly go through the try, fail, learn, adapt, try again cycle.

Babies have no experience based evidence to draw on so they will continually explore their world, experimenting freely, with no preconceived ideas about what the outcomes might be. They’ll repeat the try, fail, learn, adapt, try again cycle until they get the results they want.

As we grow up, soaking up the evidence from our endeavours and experiences, we start to pre-empt how our experiments with the world around us are likely to turn out. What is likely to work and what isn’t. We begin to base our decisions on this reduced pool of likely outcomes, unwilling to let go of what we think will work, becoming more and more cautious about experimentation.

We no longer try out different ways of doing things and stick to what we think we know. As entrepreneurs that’s a recipe for disaster.

We’re all aware of the famous Albert Einstein quote:

Without experimentation there can be no reflection, adaptation, innovation and ultimately progress.

So how do we prepare to fail?

How do you think of failure? What does the word failure conjure up for you?

Does it mean utter disaster or just ‘not yet the desired result’? I love the backronym for the word fail – First Attempt In Learning. OK it might be your second, third or hundredth attempt but the sentiment works for me.

If we can accept that failing is all part of the path to success we can learn to fear it less. Sure it might sting once in a while, We’re grown ups people. We’ll get over it.

1. Expect failure as part of progress

Many of us fear uncertainty in life. We can’t cope with not knowing how things are going to turn out. What if I could guarantee something to you? Would that help?

You are going to fail.

Not every time and hopefully not in your ultimate goal but on the road there? Hell yeah! If we expect failure to happen at some point then it shouldn’t derail us.

2. Develop resiliency

So how do we ready ourselves to adapt and overcome it? By learning to embrace resilience and ‘fail forward’ of course!

  • You did all the research.
  • You planned and prepared.
  • You visualised the outcome you wanted.
  • You failed.

Now let’s enter that resilient mindset. In this mindset we can view life’s challenges as merely that – a challenge. An opportunity to learn from, adapt and grow. While our pride might take the odd knock, the resilient mindset blocks the full blown, knock out punch that failure could otherwise give you.

You want to get up and fight another day, right?

Resilient people are passionate about and committed to their ‘why’. They focus their efforts on the things they have control over and let go of the things they don’t. They view setbacks as temporary and don’t allow a failure in one area to negatively impact everything else.

The good news is it’s a skill you can develop.

3. Create the right environment

If we are to learn and evolve from our failures we must be able to dissect them and unearth the lessons. It’s key then to create an environment where that’s possible.

Why we need to prepare to fail

Matthew Syed explores this concept brilliantly in his book Black Box Thinking: Marginal Gains and the Secrets of High Performance. He explores the concept of how we reach success through being prepared to learn from our failures.

As his title suggests he compares the transparent and self scrutinising culture of my old stomping ground – the airline industry – with the hugely egocentric and blame oriented culture of the medical profession. While causing death through our failures thankfully isn’t something most of us have to face on a daily basis, we can learn a lot from examining the impact our environment has on our ability to try, fail, learn, adapt and try again.

Whether you’re a sole trader or leading a large organisation, you must create an environment where failure can be openly explored, learned from and adaptations made. It’s in that space that the magic happens

4. Be Curious

The only way to adapt and grow is to dispense with any feelings of frustration, blame and regret and adopt a healthy dose of curiosity. Without any strong negative emotions getting in the way you’ll be able to look back at what went wrong. While every project may need it’s own unique set of failure analysis questions, here are some which are universal.

  • Was it within your control?
  • What could you have done differently?
  • Do you need to learn or improve on specific skills?
  • Who else could you learn from?
  • Do you see any patterns emerging?
  • How was your state of mind?

The last question is critical. Our negative reaction to failure can often be rooted in concern over what others think of us. We fear being judged and our ego gets in the way. While there may be factors involved we can’t control, with practise we can learn to control our state of mind.

In summary

I’ll leave the final word to American basketball hero Michael Jordan.

I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Your turn

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic too.

  • How do you feel about failure?
  • Do you actively seek opportunities were you may fail?  How do you learn from these fails?

Please share your experiences below and feel free to ask if you have any questions.

Related Content:


About Lynn McMurray

Why we need to prepare to fail Lynn McMurray Guest BlogAs a former Learning and Development Business Partner and Customer Experience Specialist in the travel/airline industry, Lynn McMurray recently gave up corporate life and, with a complete career switch, is now following her passion for home interiors with the launch of her business The Seasonal Touch.

With her main focus now firmly on growing her fledgling business, Lynn maintains a keen interest in personal/professional development and all things leading to successful entrepreneurship.

Connect with Lynn:

All images are from FreeImages.com. License info http://www.freeimages.com/license. Basketball pic – Hal Wilson. Baby pic – Ramona Gaukel. Aircraft pic – Emmanuel Wuyts.

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About Vicky Gunn

Beach addict and crazy spaniel mum (thanks to Millie), I love helping others create memories. Founder of Millie's Lifestyle and avid blogger - life would be boring doing just one thing. Wouldn't it?!?!?