CELEBRATE FAILURE?

CELEBRATE FAILURE?

Yes—because it’s essential to success

You can’t know success without seeing its flip side

Recently, it seems everyone is interested in failure. There are workshops, books, and panels on how to fail better or “fail forward.” While it’s a tough sell, people are even being encouraged to celebrate their failures as they would their successes.

It’s a trendy concept, but it’s not a new one, particularly in the science and technology worlds. After all, one gains valuable information and understanding from every experiment, whether it supports a hypothesis or not.

At Yale, I lead and work in a highly entrepreneurial culture. The concepts of worthwhile risk and continual learning from all life experiences, including failure, are often naturally woven into academics and into student life.

Successful people through the ages have known how to embrace their failures: Scientists, athletes, and people of deep religious faith alike know that failures are integral to success of any kind.

When things go wrong, it points to a way forward. Failures contain clues to success: They suggest that harder work, a different direction, or a different team may be in order. Failures may suggest that the time is not right.

Successful people manage to read failure’s signals and use these to their advantage. They spend as little time as possible using the failure to devalue themselves as people. Instead, they use it as simple data to diagnose what may be wrong and then chart a new direction.

Today, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, who just won a MacArthur Genius Grant, is at the top of the bestseller list for his second book, Between the World and Me, which The New Yorker called “exceptional.” Coates has also taught at MIT. But in an interview for The Atlantic magazine’s video series, he recalled what he learned from a tough time in his career, when he had been laid off and was considering driving a cab for a living:

“I always considered the entire [writing] process to be about failure,” he says. An idea that strikes you as brilliant, he often finds, “is somehow not so brilliant when you get to write. And so you fail. And if you’re doing it correctly, what happens is what you hear in your head will almost always come out badly. … But what you have to do is give yourself a day, go back, revise, over and over and over again.”

“It’s not really that mystical. It’s repeated practice.”

This ability to see a failure as a persistent interaction with information and data can lead to even greater success—and it certainly can lower the pressure and stress.

Ready to share a failure? The lesson you learned—and the way you survived—could be a great help to someone.