What Does Failure Look Like (And How Can It Lead To Success)?

I wrote a post about success a short while ago.  The context there was the Federer vs Murray Wimbledon tennis final and the significant achievement of a British player almost winning the Championship’s singles trophy.

James Dyson

James Dyson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think it is worth spending a few moments thinking about the lessons that not being successful can offer.  My view would be, to paraphrase Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘What does not kill you makes you stronger.’

Funnily enough I was talking about the principle of if-at-first-you-don’t-succeed with the owner / manager of a take-away restaurant recently.

We were speaking days after Spain won the Euro 2012 tournament.  England’s performance was dogged, Group A winning, but not ultimately successful.  It suggested there was room for improvement.

I think the take-away manager and I decided that in the UK failure often brought out a response of, ‘Well what did you expect?’ or perhaps, ‘It isn’t worth trying again”.

In the US and elsewhere the attitude is more “Hey never mind.  I know it didn’t work out, but what are you going to try next?”

So there’s the background.  It can take a lot of self-belief to miss a goal and use the experience to improve.

Here’s an article exploring these themes further, written by the entrepreneur and inventor Sir James Dyson.  I can’t find fault with his observation that “Success takes time, patience and perseverance”.


Thinking more broadly there are parallels to performance in the sporting world too.  Here are some thoughts about what it takes to reach the Gold medal standard.


I like Track Cyclist Victoria Pendleton ‘s comment that, learning lessons from not reaching a goal, entails “having a robust self-esteem with an identity that is not too defined by performance results so [you] can maintain [your] emotional stability and work out how to improve.”

Which sounds a lot like Sir James Dyson’s reflection, “Failure is painful, but it spurs on improvement like nothing else.”

I think those are timely insights for Athletes, Innovators, or Regular Folk like the rest of us.

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