21 ways to learn from failures

1. The difference between  failures and mistakes

“A failure is a project that doesn’t work, an initiative that teaches you something at the same time the outcome doesn’t move you directly closer to your goal.
A mistake is either a failure repeated, doing something for the second time when you should have known better, or a misguided attempt (because of carelessness, selfishness or hubris) that hindsight reminds you is worth avoiding.
We need a lot more failures, I think. Failures that don’t kill us make us bolder, and teach us one more way that won’t work, while opening the door to things that might.” (Seth Godin)

2. Avoid stupid Mistakes

3. You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs

4. Serendipity: happy accidents
Famous Examples of Serendipity

  • Rubber
    Vulcanization of rubber, by Charles Goodyear. He accidentally left a piece of rubber mixture with sulfur on a hot plate, and produced vulcanized rubber
  • The Microwave Oven
    was invented by Percy Spencer while testing a magnetron for radar sets at Raytheon, he noticed that a peanut candy bar in his pocket had melted when exposed to radar waves.
  • Post-It Notes
    Used a failed glue which was not sticky enough, the inventor got fed up with the bits of paper he used to mark sections in his hymn book falling out that he suddenly thought of a use for a unique non-permanent glue his company had invented but had never found a use for.
  • Vaseline 
    A chemist working for an old company noticed that the oil-workers would rub a white excretion from the pipes onto scratches and would, he took some home and Vaseline Petroleum Jelly was born.
  • Velcro
    A Swiss Engineer out walking was annoyed by the Burrs which attach to you when you are out walking. He examined one and found the burr had lots of little hooks. It took him then years to develop Velcro but it only became popular when Astronauts started using it.

5. Forget best practices, learn from worst practices
A top girls’ school is planning a “failure week” to teach pupils to embrace risk, build resilience and learn from their mistakes.
The emphasis will be on the value of having a go, rather than playing it safe and perhaps achieving less.
Pupils at Wimbledon High School will be asked how they feel when they fail. (article)

6. Take action

7.  Take more risks

8. Dare to dream

9. Wrong predictions

Television won’t last because people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.  Darryl Zanuck, movie producer, 20th Century Fox, 1946

Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy. Associates of Edwin L. Drake refusing his suggestion to drill for oil in 1859.

Remote shopping, while entirely feasible, will flop—because women like to get out of the house, like to handle merchandise, like to be able to change their minds. Time, 1966, in one sentence writing off e-commerce long before anyone had ever heard of it.

more incorrect predictions

10. No success without flops
7 Products Steve Jobs Got Wrong


Einstein’s Mistakes
1905 Mistake in clock synchronization procedure on which Einstein based special relativity
1905 Failure to consider Michelson-Morley experiment
1905 Mistake in transverse mass of high-speed particles
1905 Multiple mistakes in the mathematics and physics used in calculation of viscosity of liquids, from which Einstein deduced size of molecules
1905 Mistakes in the relationship between thermal radiation and quanta of light
1905 Mistake in the first proof of E = mc2
1906 Mistakes in the second, third, and fourth proofs of E = mc2
1907 Mistake in the synchronization procedure for accelerated clocks
1907 Mistakes in the Principle of Equivalence of gravitation and acceleration
1911 Mistake in the first calculation of the bending of light

11. Top 10 Mistakes that worked

top 10

12. Make fun of failures

13. Unlucky Number. Take no risk and go to 14.

14. Publish your failures.
It’s no secret that it can be difficult to find negative results in the scientific literature. For a variety of reasons, positive publication bias is a real phenomenon. In clinical medicine, that can paint a more optimistic picture of a field than is actually the case. And in basic science, it can mean other scientists may repeat experiments that have already failed.
But the new Journal of Errology, yet to be launched, wants to be a home for experiments that didn’t work out. If it’s successful, it might mean a place where researchers could publish results that don’t look great, without feeling the need to make them look any better — a strategy that can lead to retractions.

15. Forget perfection

16. Love customer feedback

17. You don’t have to be the first
“… Gladwell reminded the audience Steve Jobs didn’t invent the personal computer, nor its graphical user interface. Xerox, a well funded operation with legions of engineers and technicians and culture of innovation, invented what Jobs eventually turned into an affordable device consumers could understand, use and afford.

Further supporting his argument that being third is better than being first, Gladwell pulled an example from the world of social media. Friendster, in a sense, invented social networking but focused solely on dating. MySpace came along and added additional elements of connecting to another with a focus on music. Facebook then took the best of both and rolled in even more features making the service the most widely adopted social network in the world.

Gladwell had many more examples. Sony invented the eReader but Amazon capitalized on it. James Watt invented the steam engine but a legion of tweakers made it better. Google didn’t invent search but it is, by far, the search king of the internet. (Article)

18. Learn from failed business models
7 business-models that got shot in 2011

19. Never give up

20. Tomorrow

21. Nearling
A nearling is a positive word for something new that you did with the right intentions, which has not (yet) led to the right result.
The reasons for nearlings not to succeed can be diverse, the circumstances have changed; a better option has been chosen; you made an error; faith decided differently; there suddenly were other priorities, etc.
Until this moment there was no right English word for this phenomenum. There is the word ‘failure’, yet that sounded negative. You only recognize a nearling when you look back. You can always learn from a nearling. The nearling fills a gap in the international innovation language.

50 Famously Successful People who Failed at First 

More inspiration checklists

- Marc Heleven -

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