Why Failure’s So Important

“Fail often. Fail early. Fail forward.”

Did you see Will Smith’s Instagram story on the 7th of January? Here’s the video and here’s a transcript. He went in on the subject of failure. Specifically how vital it is to success.

“Failure is a massive part of being successful. You have to get comfortable with failure. You have to actually seek failure. Failure is where all of the lessons are.”

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Failure isn’t a subject most recruiters will talk about publicly.

To do so is to admit to a shortcoming or defeat. Sure we vent over by the coffee machine or down the pub about deals that went sour but letting off steam is a whole other kettle of fish to accepting that we’ve well and truly failed. In reality of course, no one’s successful all the time.

“Successful people fail a lot. They fail a whole lot more than they succeed. They extract the lessons from the failure and they use the energy and the wisdom to come around to the next phase of success.”

Based on that logic you’d imagine LinkedIn would be full of posts from recruiters bragging about how many times they cock up throughout the day. Instead, we’re inundated with posts of buying a stranger’s latte, turned into a personal success story.

The truth is, it would be bizarre to harp on about failing all the time.

So we internalise it. But accepting that you’ll fail, and owning it when you do, is a skill that can make a good consultant great and a great one into a leader.

The “fail forward” quote comes from John C Maxwell, an American author on leadership.

“The more you do, the more you fail. The more you fail, the more you learn. The more you learn, the better you get”  from Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes Into Stepping Stones for Success.

“Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward”.

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Source: Maxwell Centre press

In the world of recruitment, we’re spoilt for opportunities to fail. You’ll fail to get that deal over the line. Fail to place candidates. Fail to get interviews. Fail to fill jobs. Fail to pull jobs. Fail to even find the right people. You’ll occasionally fail to get to the office on time.

This is particularly true if you subscribe to the belief that recruitment is a numbers game. More activity = more success. If you’re anything like me, you’ll also know that more activity = more opportunities to fail.

One of the most vocal proponents of failure as a tool for success is James Altucher. He spits in the face of failing forward in Is Failure Good?

He revels at losing literally everything in I Failed at 1,001 Things. Here’s What Happened Next. He is notorious for having “started 20 companies, 17 of which have failed”.

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Source: @altucher

Yes it’s the three that worked that made the difference, but they wouldn’t have happened without the 17 wrong’uns.

Because failure is a brilliant teacher if you embrace it.

All failure is, is the least immediately beneficial outcome from trying to be successful. It’s often the result of a lack of ability or a lack of good fortune. Unless it’s both, it’s usually nothing more. Either we’re exposed for not being as good as we thought or fate’s conspired against us.

Removing the negative emotional connection from failure is the first step towards making it work for you.

Like the Fresh Prince says, “you have to get comfortable with failure”. You have to kick your shoes off, get a hoody on and curl up under a blanket with failure. You have to be OK with farting in front of failure.

Mainly because failure is an intangible concept and not a physical entity. But also because recruitment’s a job for big egos. Dwelling on past mistakes is one of the least recommended things to do in this line of work. And rightly so, because it can be extremely unpleasant.

Especially in an environment where our successes are marked by a fanfare. It would be absurd to recognise failure in the same way. So this is a private thing. And it takes minerals. But if you can stomach it, taking a long, hard look at where things went wrong can lead to all kinds of good stuff happening.

Not making the same mistake again is one. Being unafraid to try is another. The fact that being alert to your failures makes your successes even sweeter is possibly the best.

I don’t think big billers spend a great deal of time dwelling on their failures. They just aren’t wired that way. Something bad happens and they go all dead in the eyes. They’re already focussed on the next win.

Great Team Leaders may lose sleep over failures. I think they really dwell on them. And that may be why they’re in the position they’re in. Without proving that you can hold your hands up; learn from your mistakes and use them as motivation to do better, how can you be expected to inspire the same in others?

The next time you fail, just remember that Michael Jordan got cut from his high school basketball team.

“Whenever I was working out and got tired and figured I ought to stop, I’d close my eyes and see that list in the locker room without my name on it. That usually got me going again”.

Nearly twenty years later he landed a starring role in Space Jam, proving that even if it takes a while, failure turned into motivation can lead to success.