Don’t Badmouth Failure!

Posted on July 12, 2022

Failure is as common as dirt.

We’ve all felt its sting, bruises, and embarrassments. Naturally, nobody likes it. Funny thing is, though, most people don’t fail as often as they should.

You can take that route—you know, try to play it safe—but in the overall scheme of things, that path is the most punishing.

When we make it a high priority to avoid failure, we don’t stretch ourselves. We stick with the tried-and-true and don’t experiment with new behaviors. Here’s the irony--in the process, we still fail! That’s because in minimizing risks we deny ourselves the chance to become our best selves. We don’t learn as fast. We don’t grow as much. We fail to develop fully or exploit our true potential. So we die with far too many of our possibilities and dreams unrealized. And we never even stop to calculate the cost of these failings.

Since you can’t avoid failure altogether, the important thing is knowing how to handle it.

You have three options:

  • Lazy failure

    This is when you experience failure and, well, you give up. Maybe you give it a shot two or three more times, but when things still don’t work out, you quit. You don’t do your homework and analyze why you failed. There’s no real effort to figure out what went wrong, what you can learn, or how you can benefit from the situation.

  • Dumb failure

    This is wrongheaded persistence. It’s like a fly that’s killing itself trying to fly through the glass of a windowpane. The fly keeps mindlessly repeating the same behaviors, maybe struggling even harder and harder, when it’s obviously not working. The fly isn’t lazy. In fact, the fly is trying like crazy, but it’s wasted effort.

  • Positive failure

    This is smart failure. You acknowledge that things aren’t working, analyze the situation, and try a more informed course of action based on what you’ve just learned. That’s how breakthroughs happen.

Here’s the hard truth: Failure is what you make it.

Used wisely, failure helps you figure out a better way to pursue your goal. Failure reveals reality...provides honest feedback...gives you solid evidence that positions you to do better. Why would you deny yourself such a valuable asset?

When carefully studied through hindsight, your biggest achievements almost always reveal mistakes. Invariably, failures occurred somewhere along the way. And, in fact, positive failure probably played a key role in your successful outcomes.

Failure is merely a symptom telling you to stop and diagnose the situation. Failure always comes with a lesson. Look for it, because it’s there somewhere.

Be smart and use it to succeed.


Price Pritchett is one of the foremost experts on fast-growth strategies and breakthrough performance. His firm—PRITCHETT, LP—is recognized worldwide for its thought leadership on mergers, corporate culture, change management, and accelerated achievement. These writings define the behaviors and individual mindset underlying fast growth and innovation.


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