Wednesday Words of Wisdom: Success through failure

If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.

Thomas J Watson, former Chariman and CEO, IBM

I wrote the other day about how important it is as an adult to hold on to some of the fearlessness of a young child because fear can often be the thing that prevents us from fulfilling our potential.

This quote from Thomas Watson, the man who built IBM into a global giant that dominated the computer industry, encapsulates that sentiment perfectly. A mindset centred on the avoidance of failure is one destined to stymie growth. Every great scientist or inventor has succeeded by being brave enough to risk and experience failure (often many times over) in pursuit of something new.

The more willing you are to fail, the more likely you are to succeed.

That’s true in so many walks of life. As a child, we learn through trial and error, by constantly pushing our comfort zone outwards by accumulating new experiences and the bumps and grazes that go along with them. As adults though, we become increasingly conditioned to minimise risk and avoid failure.

And yet anyone who has ever tried saving for the future will know that there is a correlation between financial risk and reward. You can tuck your cash under the mattress and it will be safe but it will never grow. There is a risk of losing your money if you invest in the stock market but there is also the potential for great reward. Accepting that risk can lead to failure – but it can also lead to great success.

When we reach the point at which we are paralysed by fear of failure, we effectively accept that, like cash under the mattress, we will never grow again. It’s not how any of us should want to be, and it’s certainly not how I want my children to be. Which is why I will smile a small smile every time I see them fail at something. Not because I don’t want them to succeed, but because a failure often teaches us more about ourselves and our world than repeated success does.

So why wouldn’t you want to double your failure rate?

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