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For most of us, failure is something to be avoided. After all, who really likes attempting to accomplish something and not succeeding?

But there's an inconvenient truth: failure is underrated. In many cases, it's a prerequisite for success and those who embrace it and learn from it have a strategic advantage over those who won't and can't.

I started thinking about this subject more recently after a discussion with a friend of mine. For the past decade, he has made a small fortune as a domainer. He owns a handful of really valuable domains that display little more than landing pages with advertising. While I don't diminish the value of the hard work he's put in optimizing those landing pages and choosing the right ad services, it's generally a simple business. One that until recently made enough to support a very comfortable lifestyle.

Over the past year, however, my friend has experienced what a lot of domainers have: decreasing PPC revenues. While he's still earning enough to pay the bills, the writing on the wall is clear to me at least: he can't rely on the same business model forever. Thinking that some of his domains are perfect for lead generation, I suggested that he take a few and dive into the lead gen business. His response: "I don't know the first thing about lead generation. It won't work out". Translation: I'll fail.

Now I have no doubt that my friend might fail short-term. But I have no doubt that he's smart enough to learn something new and succeed. Despite my pleas and offers to help, I have been unable to convince him to try something new that might save his business.

After reflecting on this experience, I came to realize that this isn't entirely surprising. After all, as a society failure is highly-stigmatized and those who fail spectacularly, both professionally and personally, are often made the subject of the spotlight. In the business and tech communities in particular, 'fail' has become a prominent fixture. Just do a Twitter search. Now we're all guilty of indulging in highlighting a #fail or two (or three), but some fails are more worthy of scrutiny than others and in general, I am worried that #fail culture may be going too far.

The experience with my friend is not the first example I've seen first-hand of a good entrepreneur subconsciously deterred from trying something new or sharing their dreams, ideas and inventions for fear of ridicule if they fail. And the fear of failure isn't only something that entrepreneurs have to grapple with. We tell big corporations all the time that they're dinosaurs who will die if they don't evolve. Yet when they enter uncharted waters (like social media) and stumble while trying to find their sea legs, we often scorn them.

In short, the balance between using failure to provide much-needed lessons and using it to tear down individuals who are guilty only of trying to do something may be tipping far too much in favor of the latter. If I'm right, this will have a negative impact on small businesses and big businesses alike. From reducing the amount of constructive criticism in the marketplace of ideas to discouraging healthy risk-taking, I can't help but think we need more celebration of failure.

So I'll ask a question: is #fail culture getting out of hand? Are we setting the stage for a more hostile environment for creative thinkers and business leaders? Or am I being too sensitive?

Photo credit: griffithchris via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 16 September, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2419 more posts from this author

Comments (4)


Rory Bernard

I would recommend reading http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2009/09/failure.html. He has an excellent article on precisely this with a number of interesting comments.

Failure is an essential business experience and one that is highly underrated in the UK and Europe.

about 7 years ago


Roshan Bholah

As well as a fear of failure there is a fear of change. If businesses big or small have consistently made money from one source then they are often stuck in the mindset that that is the only way they can succeed.

about 7 years ago


Adam Cleaver

I agree. Failure is a good thing. One of the greatest proponents of failure also happened to build one of the most innovative and certainly the largest producer of engines in the world - a certain Soichiro Honda. I'm also reminded of a multi-billionaire businessman who would only employ senior managers who had spectacularly failed at least three times. He'd rather they made their mistakes on someone else's watch! There's no better way to learn a great deal that by failing. 

about 7 years ago



Failure is essential for growth. Fear of failure, if it results in lack of trying, will ultimately result in lost opportunities. You learn from failures both your own and others. Sometimes opportunities arise out of a previous failure. When I was in college we had a class on Failure in Business where we studied major company failures and discussed common failures. It was one of my favorite classes because learning what not to do is just as important as learning what to do.

almost 7 years ago

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