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Why failure is key to success

Posted by Neha De

January 21, 2022    |     3-minute read (552 words)

We are taught from a young age that failure is not acceptable and should be feared. However, failure can actually be good for success. In fact, the secret to success is experiencing a lot of failure. Ask any successful person and they will tell you that it is okay to fail and that failure is part of the process. 

Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, failed 1,000 tries before he managed to develop a successful prototype. When asked how it felt to fail 1,000 times, he famously replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

Sigmund Freud was booed from the stage when he first presented his ideas to the scientific community of Europe. He returned to his office and kept on writing. 

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is one of the most successful business owners in the world. But he wouldn't be there if he didn't embrace “failure” the way he has over the years. Bezos believes that being tolerant of failure is a big part of the culture at Amazon and is responsible for its big successes. In fact, almost every Amazon shareholder letter that Bezos has written has contained the words “invent” or “fail,” according to a piece from Business Insider. He once wrote, “Failure comes part and parcel with invention. It’s not optional. We understand that and believe in failing early and iterating until we get it right.”

In an interview at the World Economic Forum, co-founder and former executive chairman of Alibaba Group, Jack Ma recounted his failures: not being able to get a job in KFC, or as a server in a hotel; or not being able to get into Harvard despite applying several times. He shared that every failure prepared him for the path he took on as a CEO. 

British inventor and founder of the Dyson company, Sir James Dyson is a firm believer in failure. In fact, he sees it as a crucial part of his success — a step toward a truly innovative solution. When Dyson invented his first Dual Cyclone vacuum cleaner, he spent 15 years creating 5,126 versions that failed before he made one that worked. The result was a multi-billion dollar company that is known for its creativity and forward-thinking designs.

Why are we so averse to failure

Studies have shown that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains. This phenomenon, called “loss aversion,” was first identified by Nobel Prize-winning psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman.

Tversky and Kahneman found that “people make rational choices based on their self-interest — by showing that people frequently fail to fully analyze situations where they must make complex judgments. Instead, people often make decisions using rules of thumb rather than rational analysis, and they base those decisions on factors economists traditionally don't consider, such as fairness, past events and aversion to loss.”

Their analysis shows the great negative impact a loss has on us as human beings, which is much greater than the impact of a win. Therefore, it explains why we as humans would go at lengths to avoid a loss or a failure.

Wrapping up

Success cannot come without failure. True success comes from perseverance and endurance, embracing failure and taking something positive from every failure. 

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