Famous Failures

People fear failure. Even successful business leaders would rather avoid it. We’re all taught since childhood not to take risks, because we’ll be punished with low grades in school.

But is failure really so terrible? Instead of being afraid of it, what if we could use it to increase our ability to succeed? Would it still be scary then?

The infographic below includes examples of famous failures—people who failed and then went on to great success. You’ll also find quotes about how to deal with failure and some of our own best ideas about it. Use this information to harness the power of failures and find greater success.

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Famous Failures

How Can Failure Lead to Success?

You will have many small failures during a process leading to success. That isn’t an abstract platitude. Pixar, for example, always seems to put out great movies, right? They never make a flop. Their secret? They create and storyboard a lot of truly terrible ideas, reject many, and refine others until they find the one they finally develop.

You, also, should get comfortable practicing a new skill poorly until you can do it better. Write a terrible first draft, design a kindergarten-level product, practice a speech in a nervous voice, and so on. Be willing to be a beginner and not a paragon in every ability.

If you can get through the difficult times of any worthwhile project or skill, you should eventually get to the level where you can be proud of it—and look back at an interesting path of failures and triumphs.

Who Are Some Famous Failures?

It’s inspiring to realize that successful people haven’t always been successful. For example, Steve Jobs started Apple and then was fired from it! We don’t usually look up to people who have been fired. But Jobs used that failure to take time to reflect on what he really cared about. He then started a couple of other companies, which finally earned him the CEO role at Apple again.

Another famous failure who succeeded was Walt Disney. He and a partner built Laugh-o-Gram Studios to create animations. But they didn’t make enough money to pay their bills. They went bankrupt. Disney moved on. He used what he had learned and built the Walt Disney Company, which today wields enormous influence over the animation industry.

Famous Quotes on Failure

If you’re afraid of failure, put one of the following quotes on a sticky note where you’ll see it every day. Let it gradually inoculate you against the fear of failure, then repeat with another quote.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Winston Churchill

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” Henry Ford

“Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.” Wilma Rudolph

“Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” C.S. Lewis (A finger post is a sign at a crossroads pointing toward various destinations and distances. A failure can suggest several new options to try!)

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” Helen Keller

“The greatest mistake we make is living in constant fear that we will make one.” John C. Maxwell   

“A man should never be ashamed to own that he has been in the wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.” Alexander Pope

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.” Neil Gaiman

“Remember your dreams and fight for them. You must know what you want from life. There is just one thing that makes your dream become impossible: the fear of failure.” Paulo Coelho

“Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another steppingstone to greatness.” Oprah Winfrey

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.” J. K. Rowling

“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” Bill Gates

Which Is a Better Teacher, Success or Failure?

Have you heard the idea, “Failure is a better teacher than success”? Actually, both failure and success give you experiences you can reflect on and learn from. Failure isn’t automatically better, because:

  1. When we fail, we don’t always analyze our failures.
  2. Even when we do analyze failures, we can learn the wrong lessons from them, because our thoughts are limited to certain ineffective mental models.

Why do people think failure is the best teacher? Probably because it’s painful, and pain is impossible to ignore. But proactive businesspeople don’t wait for pain to force them to learn. You can instead keep a regular, scheduled time for journaling about and reflecting on everyday events.

You can also periodically discuss your successes and failures with trusted partners and mentors. Finally, commit to continually learning from books and courses that give you additional mental models with which to analyze your experiences.

Keep On Learning

Start making this infographic and quotes a part of your life by featuring them prominently at your home or workspace. At CMOE, we help businesspeople to engage in effective learning processes, so we encourage you to apply what you’ve read right away.

Upgrade your relationship with failure. Learn from it, and you’ll get more comfortable with both failure and success.

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About the Author

CMOE Design Team

CMOE’s Design Team is comprised of individuals with diverse and complementary strengths, talents, education, and experience who have come together to bring a unique service to CMOE’s clients. Our team has a rich depth of knowledge, holding advanced degrees in areas such as business management, psychology, communication, human resource management, organizational development, and sociology.