By Andrew Neitlich

The absolute importance of failure

By Andrew Neitlich

A recent post to a blog entry asked about failure and what to do if you have never failed.

I have to confess that I am one of the biggest failures you will ever meet. And that’s a good thing from my point of view.

4 out of 5 businesses or ideas I have fail. (But 1 out of 5 do great; and I’ve learned how to test ideas at low cost).


I’ve failed trying to climb the corporate ladder — at at least four decent-sized companies. And I’ve failed as an employee in a variety of smaller ventures. I’ve been laid off once and fired another time. (But these failures have given me the confidence and desire to go out on my own).

I’ve failed in working with 2 out of 3 business partners. (But the 1 that has worked out has been fabulous!)

One out of 4 clients don’t continue to work with me. (But 3 out of 4 are intensely loyal!)

The vast majority of people who see me speak, read my articles and blogs, receive a direct mail letter, or see an online ad for my programs don’t respond. (But I learn from this and keep testing and improving to increase response).

Get out there and fail! Stop trying to be perfect. Put up a site and keep improving it. Get out there and keep learning and refining your approach. Stop being an A student and start being a B or even C student. Try lots of things and see what works — and then build on that.

In fact, one of the reasons clients come to me is because I have failed so much. I turn that into an advantage: “Mr. Client, I can save you lots of money because I know what DOESN’T WORK as much as I know what does work. Hire me and you’ll avoid making lots of costly mistakes that your competitors make every single day.”

I used to be a perfectionist. I was an all-A student at Harvard. But while that kind of record (which came before grade inflation there) was great for a career in research or academia, it didn’t mean much in the business world. I learned fast that success in business is much different than success in school. It took me a long time to adapt, and get out of the perfectionist trap.

So try things and see what works, and doesn’t work. Learn about the needs of a specific market and solve their problems.

Get out there, try (at low cost), and learn.

Take risks and be ready to fail. When you get good at failing, paradoxically, success will follow.

That’s because you are out there doing something. That can often be enough to take your knowledge to a new level compared to your peers, and then have an insight that brings you great success.

Obviously, you can’t fail 100% of the time forever. You have to keep shifting and adapting, using what you have learned to try new things. Don’t try to fail. But do take risks in which you minimize your downside, learn from your actions, and keep persisting in new and improved directions.

In drilling for oil, you might hit 9 dry wells before you strike the gusher! The same is true in business. You never know if success will come after 1 well, after 10, or — due to the way that statistics can work — after 20.

Just keep drilling! And that means you have to be willing to keep failing.

  • pff

    Nice post, people who don’t fail just don’t try. Failure is a part of taking risks, in order to gain greater returns.

  • ffg

    There is no failure…… only feedback

  • fklegg

    Life is a very short dance. Before you know it will be over. Enjoy your life, even when you fail because the things you worry about really really are the ones you should actually be worried about.

  • fklegg

    really really aren’t

  • webguy

    This is one of the best posts I have read from you. It is absolutely “spot on” and everyone needs to read it! Thomas Edison learned from his 999 “failures” before figuring out how to make it work. Anyone, and mean anyone, who has great success is had failures.

    Teddy Roosevelt wrote, “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in that grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”


  • Adam A Flynn

    Great post, Andrew. I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now, and I think this is one of your best posts.


  • webgurl

    grrrrrrrrreat post andy baby!

  • Encouraging post! I’ve been fired once myself also, which did lead me to going on my own. I am happy that happened to me, because I probably would not have had the guts to quit and start on my own.

    I’ve got tons of ideas too… I don’t know how many websites I have put up and realized it was not working out… but as you said, I’m learning from them :)

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  • And in a nutshell we get why the UK will never be like the US. In the UK failure is total and the associated stigma very hard to live down (although legally it’s getting better), in the US unless you have failed you never have the experience to truly succeed.

  • Here is a great quote I live by…..”The key to success is learning to fail quickly”. Bottom line is that you will fail. Expect it to happen! The key is to learn from your failures and always adapt the next time around.

  • Anonymous

    from “Finding Nemo”:
    Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.

    Helps me a lot. :-)

  • bockereyer

    I think you must make a difference between failing and going bankrupt. Having a business is something like target practicing, as long as you can keep on shooting eventually you will hit the bull’s-eye.

  • www.Enovabiz.com

    I have tried business before. Have FAILED spectacularly. The reasons were enough. No experience, no goal, no commitment, no synergy with the partners. Then, I moved to a job, did it for a couple of years. I quite it last friday and started working for myself. I dont know if Iam gonna succeed this time but thsi time Iam relatively experienced , have projects under my belt. But, Iam just stressed out working 16 hrs a day.
    Good thing I failed becuase I would have lost many experiences and lessons which come out of failure. Usually, small successes and victories blind you and one tends to ignore the shortcomings. This really stops you from achieving bigger things.

  • Kevlar

    Helpfull post! I’m in the phase of my life where I have to learn to enjoy failing and not take myself (and others) so serieus. Mourning past mistakes, however tempting, is not the way :)

  • spVince

    Good stuff.

    * Learn from each experience, good or bad.

    * Every failure brings you closer to success.
    A good example in a sales environment is when cold calling a list of say 100 contacts. If you accept that from that list you will find at least 1 client, and after 50 calls you get nothing, then rejoice the fact that you must be getting closer to finding them.


  • Nice post Andrew, very encouraging.

    But you display failure as the very source of success, which is misleading. You can’t come to a prospect and say “Take me because I fail sometimes and I learn from expreience” – They probably won’t dare to take the chance that you would fail with them, too.

    Recover from failures fast, that’s important. But always thrive for perfection and for being the absolute best you can be – Or as our Brendon puts it, always exceed the expectations. When you don’t, it’s OK, learn from it, but you should always try and never be satisfied as a “B, or even C student”.

    Just my opinion :)

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