Fail Forward

Failure is a word often used to describe something that doesn’t reach its intended goal.

Our “failures” are relative to our expectations. In fact, failure can’t exist unless there’s something that’s ultimately measurable. The important thing to pick up here is that failure has more to do with the end results of our pursuits than our personal identity or our willingness to risk for an idea. This is an important distinction.

Some people tie their failure to their own person identity. This is unfair and NOT true. Who we are doesn’t have to be tied to how well something turns out. I know that this is very difficult since most ideas are very personal in nature. After all, it’s our idea! While it’s true that what we do is an outflow of who we are, it doesn’t have to mean that the results of what we do rob us of our identity.

Also, we should never view your investment in an idea that fails as a waste of time. Are you kidding me?!!! The fact that we pursued a passion is success at many levels. Our souls become a little more alive each time we step out. The truth of the matter is that we can’t completely control the results of our pursuits. While we can do our part to ensure that we have a legitimate shot at implementing a passion, there will always be factors outside of our control that determine the results (e.g., timing, resources, networks, etc.).

Don’t live life fearing failure. Also, don’t live life expecting to fail. It’s so odd to me that many assume they will fail going into a venture. Why? Living life expecting to fail is like running a race on the heels of our feet. We’re always going to feel behind, inadequate, and off-kilter. Focus on what you can control (i.e., initiation, planning, and commitment to implementation) and let the chips fall where they may.

Furthermore, isn’t “failure” often the creative jarring one needs to find deeper purpose and meaning? It’s often a gateway to something more meaningful.

Life is too short to be consumed by things we can’t completely control in the first place. I determined long ago that if I “fail”, I might as well fail forward and become a better person by building upon my experiences. The good news is that we can all learn from each life experience if we choose to.


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Charles is the CEO & Chief Idea-Maker at Ideation, a brand innovation company that specializes in helping businesses & organizations build remarkable brands via innovative business design, organizational change architecture, brand integration, design, web, and marketing services. He is also the author of Good Idea. Now What?: How to Move Ideas to Execution, a practical book designed to help people move ideas to implementation. Charles is regularly invited to speak to leading companies and organizations on topics such as creativity, innovation, idea-making, and branding. Executive leaders from brands including Wells Fargo, Toyota, The White House, Catalyst, William Morris Endeavor, mun2, Council of Urban Professionals, Chick-fil-A, and many others have benefited from having Charles present at their key events.