Failure is ALWAYS

an option

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Mark Coster

Founder of Pixooma

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘failure is not an option’ but surely this is nonsense? Whilst it is often bandied about and used as a badge of honour, or perhaps a mark of bravado, I believe that failure is a part of life and what’s most important is how we bounce back. After all, if we want to build resilience, which is an important human trait and essential for business owners, we need to master how to overcome obstacles and adversity, so that we can learn and ultimately flourish.

All of this made me think of a famous quote from Robert Kennedy. “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” I agree with this completely because for me, failure is always an option. And you might be setting yourself up for a problem if you don’t accept it, plan and prepare for it and then learn from it.

Thomas Edison said it well: "I have not failed. I just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

Accept failure

When we start anything that we care about, there's a chance that we'll fail. Accepting failure as an option, provides us with an opportunity to set realistic expectations and build contingency plans. Let’s face it we’ve all failed and suffered setbacks, so it makes sense to be mentally prepared, so that we’re not surprised or disappointed when it happens, just keen to try again, albeit with some different parameters.

Do you remember learning how to ride a bike? I do. I tried to get it right and not fall off. Initially, there were some stabilisers, a parent running beside me to catch me, and often I learnt on grass, which provided a welcome soft landing. So really, even at a young age, I was prepared, had in effect minimised the risks and after all what were a few bumps and bruises along the way, compared with the freedom and independence of riding a bike with my friends?

Be realistic

Recently, I watched a NASA documentary about the James Webb Telescope and how it had more single point failures* (344) than any other mission. Of course, they did everything they could to mitigate them - good processes, multiple checks etc., but they waited with bated breath at every failure point to see if they had succeeded. I am sure they had plans of how to deal with it if the worst happened – I can’t imagine they simply would throw their hands up and say ‘oh well’ – but neither did they pretend that failure wasn’t an option.

In life, we very rarely read about people’s failures, we are always more concerned with their successes. But I think that the ability to pick yourself up and continue is what counts. Because when we fail, we have a choice as to how we will respond. It’s not about reprimanding yourself or others, or indeed apportioning any blame, it’s about exploring what happened and what you can learn from it.

Develop confidence and coping mechanisms

From setbacks and disappointments, we can start to develop the right emotional responses and behaviours, this may include asking for (and accepting) help so you can take a step in the right direction to building yourself back up and changing your attitude to the situation. After all Thomas Edison said it well: "I have not failed. I just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

For me failure is not pleasant, but it does provide vital information that I can learn from. It also gives me the opportunity to try it again, but this time with the ability to do things differently, make some necessary changes, knowing what I now know. But I think a lot of the problem is the word itself. That’s why I try to reframe it. By planning for failure, I am not making it happen, but I am willing to take risks, if that means I have the opportunity to achieve my goals and grow in confidence and resilience along the way.

* A Single Point of Failure is any part of a system that will, if it fails, will stop the entire system from working.

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