The F Word – Learning from Failure


Okay, so not that F word – the other one, ‘Failure’. When we hear the word we think only negative thoughts but why is failure considered so bad? Besides the obvious fact that failing doesn’t feel particularly good; failure provides an opportunity to learn through the experience, teaches resilience and allows you to adapt and refine your approach on your road to success.

It is important to understand that failure of some sort is unavoidable and to be expected – it’s simply a part of life. In order to move forwards and develop, you have to step out of your comfort zone and take risks and with these risks you either fail or succeed.

Failure and learning through self-discovery is the best teacher. It forces you to reflect and review your methods. And importantly, failure will eventually lead to success, if you remain adaptable and flexible in your approach.

In the article I am going to look at the importance of failure and how providing a few simple activities can help your team grow and overcome the fear of failing.

Fear of Failure

The fear of failing is one of the biggest fears people have. The difference between successful and unsuccessful people is that successful people overcome their fear of failure – they know they need to make a few mistakes to move towards their goal. Unsuccessful people look at mistakes as permanent and personal.

The fear of failure comprises of two components. The first is the fear of letting ourselves and others down. The second is the fear of exposure of that failure to the outside world. We worry too much about what other people think, and forget the most important thing which is why we are doing it. Most fears are about things that haven’t happened yet/or never will.

In the words of William Shakespeare, ‘Present fears are less than horrible imaginings.’

‘Horrible imaginings’ will rule our lives if we are fools enough to let them. Learn to harness your fears to your advantage.

Fretting is counter-productive at any level. And so is the lack of action. Knowing that the fear of failure is holding you back is a step in the right direction. But it isn’t enough, because knowing isn’t doing.

Action is the best solution to bring an idea or plan to life and doing will help you dispel fear and give you confidence. Thomas Edison is a great example of this point. He tried everything that didn’t work when inventing the light bulb but he didn’t give up and eventually he succeeded. From failure, fear was overcome, and light brought into the world.

The Importance of Failing

Failure means you’re developing. Every time you try something new or your face a challenge you run the risk of failing – the most important thing is that you must learn from the experience and make a change. See failure for what it truly is… learning, feedback and a chance to adapt your plan of attack.

Despite failing, many people don’t take time to review and keep trying the same approach or method only to end up with the same results. Failure doesn’t necessarily mean we are bad at something, it just means we have to try something new.

The only truly way to fail is to never really try. For every problem there is a solution and for every adversity there is an opportunity to grow and achieve success. The quicker we fail, the quicker we learn and move forwards.

How to Handle Failure

Failure presents an opportunity to review and adapt your plan. When reviewing, ask yourself:

  • What happened?
  • What did I learn from this?
  • Why did I fail?
  • What could I have done differently?
  • Where do I need to improve to succeed next time?

Asking these questions and answering as thoroughly as possible will provide you with invaluable insights, which can help move you past your current situation and towards the achievement of your goal or outcome.

Tom Peters, the author of business book ‘In Search of Excellence’ says, “In today’s business world, companies must fail forward fast.” This means that the way we learn is by making mistakes. So in order to learn quicker, we must make mistakes quicker – the key is to learn from your mistakes and take care not repeat them.

Using Team Development and Problem Solving Activities

When facilitating team development activities, during the review and debrief I normally discuss with the group failure. I try to make them understand that failure is not a bad thing. It is an inevitable part of the learning process and guaranteed to happen. In any and all tasks we undertake or challenges we face, we will experience failure, just as a toddler will fall while learning to walk.

Failure provides essential feedback that points the team to success. Failure forces teams to review their performance, adapt and put together a new and improved plan. They then carry this plan out through action and then repeat the process if necessary until they come up with the solution or achieve the end result.

Here are a few of the best team building activities for teaching failure and learning through trial and error:

These activities teach mental toughness and resilience, which help participants learn the importance of using failure to achieve success. These activities work great when teaching young people fundamental life and employability skills.

Final Note on Failure

Failure often presents you with new opportunities through self-discovery; it will help you to clarify your path, adapt your plans and make better informed decisions.

If just like me you hate to fail (or lose) you are not alone, I think virtually everyone on the planet feels the same way – failure is no fun.

As Jimmy Connor’s said, ‘I hate losing more than winning’. Believe me there is a difference…

That said, those who are successful do so despite failure by constantly reviewing and adapting. Success has been described as the ability to go from one failure to another, unrepentant and with no loss of enthusiasm. See failure as an opportunity to learn and start over again.


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