The Power of Failure

I want to talk about the F word. Not that F word, of course, but one that perhaps conjures up just as many emotionally negative connotations: failure. We don’t like to talk about it. We don’t like to admit that it could happen to us or has happened to us. Like superstitious old wives, we even think we might bring it on by talking about it. Many of us might remember the shock and dread in the pit of our stomachs when seeing a math test or English class essay riddled with red slashes. We try to forget about failure as quickly as possible.

Instead, we overfocus on praise. Especially in the business world. Who doesn’t love hearing customer raves? “We love doing business with you.” “Your service is excellent.” “Thank you for going the extra mile.” “I love your products.” Yes, these words bring a smile to every business leader’s face and are the ones passed around in company meetings when customer feedback is solicited. “We’re doing great,” we’re told, and we’re soon on to the next topic. But, if this is all you pay attention to as a brand leader, you are failing your brand. You are failing to seize the power of failure.

Brands need to embrace failure. All aspects of it, at all levels of the organization. From taking the kind of risks that could lead to failure to encouraging employees and customers to talk about when the brand has let them down to conducting thorough and honest assessments of what isn’t working and why. It is only in a culture of failure acceptance that real success can happen.

Writer Samuel Beckett encourages us with these words: “Go on failing. Go on. Only next time, try to fail better.”

Check Your Branson Meter
Many adjectives have been used to describe Richard Branson, founder of venture capital organization Virgin. But he describes himself by what he’s not: “I’m not the sort of person who fears failure.” In his latest book, “Business Stripped Bare,” he acknowledges real “failure is not giving things a go in the first place. People who fail are those who don’t have a go and don’t make an effort. Failures can’t be bothered. There are few people who’ve tried something and fallen who didn’t get enormous satisfaction from trying and I’ve learned more from people who have tried and faltered than from the charmed people for whom success came easy.” So, how do you view failure? Do you go to great extents to avoid failure, or do you purposefully push yourself (your brand, your team, your department) out of your comfort zone to take risks?

Andrea Syverson is the founder and president of creative branding and merchandising consultancy IER Partners. For 20+ years, Andrea’s joy has been inspiring clients with innovative approaches to branding, product development and creative messaging. She’s the author of two books about brand building and creating customer-centric products that enhance brands: BrandAbout: A Seriously Playful Approach for Passionate Brand-Builders and Merchants and ThinkAbout: 77 Creative Prompts for Innovators. You may reach her at

Publish date: October 1, 2009 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT