Why High Performers embrace failure

Why High Performers embrace failure

Failure is often something people want to avoid at any cost… And I wonder why? Well, let’s just take a glance at what some schools are doing, everyone wins, no single person is celebrated as-though losing is to be avoided and the school doesn’t want the kids to feel disappointed. We are conditioned to be the same, to look the same, in classes of the same skill – potentially if any child stands out, they may feel UNSAFE.


People in your business DO NOT want to be a failure, or be ashamed or have someone say “I told you so” or “who did you think you were to try that?” or god forbid worse of all, be disappointed. So then what happens is that the majority of the workforce want to be and feel SAFE, which means being ordinary. They don’t really know or trust that if they try to be extraordinary and commit to something big that if it doesn’t work that they will be supported, they may worry about losing their credibility or even their job. So why stand out? “why should I go for something that ultimately benefits the business, but I have everything to lose?”. Then there’s the rare few who dare to push through the norm and have a burning desire to exercise their inner athlete and their ambitions, who can’t bare to just tread water, or be ordinary. These people are your high performers they will be prepared to fail to see just what is possible……but just hang on a minute: how are we measuring failure ….?I’m not talking about sloppy work here, or missing deadlines or poor quality – I am talking about pushing yourself above and beyond expectations, setting extraordinary business game changing goals and aligning yourself whole heartedly with those goals ……and missing them – this is the kind of failure I am referring to.


A high performer will set a target, a goal, an outcome, a project so dynamically that they have to grow and learn in order to achieve it, recognising that if they only use the knowledge and skill they currently have then they will get the same results as they already have. They also know and EMBRACE that there will be points along the way that will fail, but they will have measures in place for failing fast and be very quickly ready to take the learnings as data for strengthening the process for the goals success. But unless failure is achieved you cannot calibrate the robustness of the project.


I had the great fortune to hear Tim Smit, Co founder of the Eden Project speak at The Royal Albert Hall in 2009 at the IoD conference
He said “I never employ anyone who hasn’t failed” – he then said to the intrigued audience “because it proves they have not tried hard enough” and then we have the philosophy that some fitness and strength trainers believe that training to failure point leads to more muscle growth. Advanced trainers might use training to failure to break through a plateau. Cars are tested on the production line to breaking point to check their safety and capability.


And then there’s the wonderful Tomas Edison an inventor, who made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. When a reporter asked, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.” Then there’s the world famous team MClaren who enter the most demanding and enduring races around the world, why? – I believe one of their reasons is to give them something to improve and stand for.
And my closing note on why High Performers embrace failure…… as Henry Ford famously quoted “whether you think you can or you think you cant – you are right!” .


10 Things I believe


  1. You’ve never failed until there is no breath left in your body to still work on it – it simply means “just not this attempt….”.
  2. Aiming so high means you’ve probably smashed through the initial target.
  3. And when you stay focused on your purpose, you aligned yourself with a cause (goal) that enabled you grow for the benefit of your “why”.
  4. I know for your sure your first ever steps as a baby were towards someone who mattered and they let you fall / fail.
  5. You definitely fell off your bicycle when you learnt to ride.
  6. You have be prepared to fail to succeed greatly.
  7. If the risk isn’t high the reward isn’t either.
  8. You do not know what you are truly capable of until you fail and recover
  9. Failing wakes you up.
  10. We are creatures of growth and growth is like water to the roots of a tree. Growing requires growing pains – be prepared they’re not comfortable.
Failure is feedback it does not need to be a setback


So here are 3 steps to follow for embracing failure


  1. Be really clear on what success looks like for your goal, outcome or project. Do not move your goal posts.
  2. Do not waste your time on self bashing – keep a clear head and a keen eye on the purpose of this goal, outcome or project.
  3. Design a formula ready for measuring failure and success points, with data collection opportunities, create continuous improvement plans and implementation schedules. Document the journey – this is valuable data that strengthens even bigger goals for the future. Data is knowledge which is fuel.

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