A short collection of quotes by highly successful people on failure and its celebration.
“I’m old-fashioned. Where I come from, people like to succeed… When I was a founder, when I first started out, we didn’t have the word ‘pivot.’ We didn’t have a fancy word for it. We just called it a fuck-up…
We do see companies, that literally every time we meet them, they’ve pivoted. Every time they’re off to something new, and it’s like watching a rabbit go through a maze or something.They’re never going to converge on anything because they’re never going to put the time into actually figuring it out and getting it right.” (Tools of Titans, page 171)
“I think failure is massively overrated. Most businesses fail for more than one reason. So when a business fails, you often don’t learn anything at all because the failure was overdetermined. You will think it failed for Reason 1, but it failed for Reasons 1 through 5. And so the next business you start will fail for Reason 2, and then 3 and so on.
I think people actually do not learn very much from failure. I think it ends up being quite damaging and demoralising to people in the long run, and my sense is that the death of every business is a tragedy. It’s not some sort of beautiful aesthetic where there’s a lot of carnage, but that’s how progress happens, and it’s not some sort of educational imperative. So I think failure is neither a Darwinian nor an educational imperative. Failure is always simply a tragedy.” (Tools of Titans, page 233)
Learning from failure is overrated
You've heard it over and over: "Learn from your mistakes." Or maybe you've heard "fail early and often." There are…
“You’ve heard it over and over: “Learn from your mistakes.” Or maybe you’ve heard “fail early and often.” There are plenty of catchy quotes about failure. Most of them end with a clever little twist that makes it sound like it’s a good thing. Is it?
I don’t understand the cultural fascination with failure being the source of great lessons to be learned. What did you learn? You learned what didn’t work. Now you won’t make the same mistake twice, but you’re just as likely to make a different mistake next time. You might know what won’t work, but you still don’t know what will work. That’s not much of a lesson.
Instead, put most of your energy into studying your successes. What have you done right? What worked? Why did it work? How you can repeat it? Instead of making something worse a little better, how about making something good a little better? Don’t spend so much time looking down. Look up more.
There’s a significant difference between “now I know what to do again” and “don’t do that again.” The former being better than the latter.
It’s true: Everything is a learning experience. Good and bad, there’s something to be learned. But all learning isn’t equal. I’ve found that if you’re going to spend your time pondering the past, focus on the wins not the losses. The lessons learned from doing well give you a better chance at continuing your success.”
(Similar passage in his book, Rework, page 16)
“If anyone has a license to brag, it’s Ray Dalio. The founder of the world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, is not only one of the world’s 100 wealthiest people — he also predicted the global financial crisis of 2007.
Yet Dalio, when studying what made him successful, thanks his most epic failure. A market call he’d made 40 years ago was so off the mark — he predicted a depression right before a massive bull market that kicked off in the 1980s — that it practically wiped him out.” (Source)
As he explains in the introduction to Principles, Dalio made this call on national television. He was super confident about it. He discussed it with a lot of people and no one could find a flaw in his iron-clad reasoning, but ultimately he was wrong and massively overconfident.
What’s amazing about this is how he bounced back. He learnt from his mistakes. In similar situations later in his life he was more careful. He didn’t go all-in. He realised he could be wrong however good his reasoning was. He realised there are black swans. Because of these learnings he was more careful with future investments and succeeded massively. (His net worth is $18bn. The others mentioned have a combined wealth of $4bn).
This post covered some quite different approaches to “failure”. Clearly, there is value to learning from everything life throws at you, both successes and failures. Arguably there’s more to learn from success, and it can be dangerous to dwell too much on the past when things don’t work out, but at the same time, some of the most successful people alive today have learnt greatly from the times they failed.
This post was mostly just quotes. But as they say: “Who is wise? One that learns from everyone.”
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