Failure in the Workplace: Is It Really That Bad?

Failure in the Workplace: Is It Really That Bad?

In this article, I aim to analyse failure in the workplace and demonstrate that it can actually be beneficial to you. I will consider the definition of failure, and provide advice which can help you grow from your less successful business endeavours. The article also examines the careers of some of the most successful business leaders in the world, demonstrating that failure helped them get to where they are today. Upon completion of reading, I hope that you will be able to go about your work in a more positive frame of mind – one which is open to failure. 

Defining failure

What is the definition of failure? A concept which many find difficult to define, the term ‘failure’ can often present conflicting views. The Oxford Dictionary defines failure as a ‘lack of success’ however we can then ask ourselves, ‘what defines success?’. It feels somewhat like a never-ending debate, so I decided to conduct further research on the matter. In a business sense, the Oxford Dictionary expands on its definition adding that failure occurs ‘when we don’t meet goals or objectives’.  Then on the other hand, others such as Sarah Blakely, CEO of Spanx, define failure as simply ‘not trying’ rather than focusing on the outcome. She believes that if you try something that is innovative or ‘outside of the square’ then that is a success within itself.  It is clear that the definition of failure comes down to a personal opinion, but regardless of your definition, failing can be of benefit to you.

Going against natural instinct

When faced with a challenge or difficulty in the workplace, many people find it easier to admit defeat and ‘fail’ rather than work harder. Why is it that humans give up so easily? Scott Young, author of ‘Get More out of Life’ explains that the reason why people give up is because ‘they are overly optimistic with their timing’ and ‘they are overly pessimistic with their ambitions’. Otherwise said, if you are realistic about the timing of certain goals, and are positive about the path to these goals, then you are less likely to fail.

Learn from the best

The vast majority of current business leaders and entrepreneurs will admit that they had to overcome failures to get to their current position. A prominent example is that of Bill Gates; the Microsoft billionaire did not have an easy path to the top. In fact, the first business that Gates created was not Microsoft; it was called Traf-O-Data. After the failure of the Traf-O-Data product, Gates attempted to sell it however it was deemed worthless. Upon reflection of that experience, Gates says ‘Even though it wasn’t a roaring success, it was seminal in preparing us to make Microsoft’s first product a couple of years later’. A prime example of someone building from their failures, Gates shows that each experience along the journey helps to shape future decisions.

Another noteworthy example is Walt Disney. Disney began his career as a newspaper editor however was fired because ‘he lacked imagination and had no good ideas’. After moving on from that career path, he invested in a number of business ideas that were short lived and unfortunately resulted in him filing for bankruptcy. In yet another attempt, he founded the Walt Disney Company which went on to make billions of dollars from movies, merchandise and theme parks around the world. Even that journey had its challenges though, with the company advising against the character of Mickey Mouse because ‘a large mouse would terrify women’. A lesson can certainly be learnt from the resilience displayed by Disney, as well as his ability to create success from failure.

Failure is feedback

One of the best aspects of facing a challenge in your work is the opportunity to take a step back to analyse and revaluate your practices. If something can be done better, the problem that occurred will provide an example of what you need to avoid, and from there, new plans can be made. This allows for organisations to be prepared for a similar instance in the future and ensure it doesn’t happen again. From a personal perspective, this also allows you to sit back and analyse what you could have done better in your particular role. Without problems and challenges along the way, the success at the end cannot occur.    

Embrace failure

As I have argued throughout – failure in the workplace does not have to be a bad thing. Ralph Heath, author of Celebrating Failure: The Power of Taking Risks, Making Mistakes and Thinking Big highlights that ‘failure and defeat are life’s greatest teachers’. Choosing to play it safe and repeating safe choices over again will not result in failure, but will also not result in true success. Embracing the possibility of failure will allow more innovative ideas to be shared and implemented. Certainly from time to time these ideas may fail, but it is how you build from these experiences and change it the next time that counts. Whether you have already failed and feel that there was no gain, or whether you are afraid to share ideas that might fail, there are countless examples which encourage you to go for it. If you fail, welcome the experience and allow yourself grow personally and professionally from it.

What do you think?

I am interested to hear your views. Do you embrace failure in the workplace or is it something that you try to avoid? Please feel free to comment your opinion below and join in the discussion.

This article was written by Laura Hutton on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources have been used to prepare this article: Huffington PostAccidental CreativeOnline CollegeHongKiat and Shutterstock Images.


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