My greatest failure

"The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything." So said a man who did plenty: Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States.

To kick-start the New Year, we have been thinking, seemingly counter-intuitively, about the benefits of failure. It may seem odd to think about mistakes at a time when everybody is busy making grand plans for success, but it is actually all part of the same process. Making mistakes and experiencing setbacks is part of the DNA of every successful entrepreneur, and I am no exception.

Image by Thierry Boccon-Gibod

Whether it is launching companies like Virgin Brides and Virgin Cola that fell flat on their face, making the wrong call on investments, or simply forgetting to return a call or send an email, I have made hundreds of mistakes. I'm sure I'll make many more this year, and learn valuable lessons from every error. Anybody who tells you they don't make mistakes has just made one.

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We've been running a series on epic entrepreneurs on recently, featuring several of my heroes, such as Dame Anita Roddick and Thomas Edison. One of the threads running through all of them is the common theme of failure. This isn't just limited to entrepreneurs. Every successful person has at least one thing in common: they've got things wrong over and over again before finding the right solution. As Edison himself said: ""I have not failed. I've just found 10000 ways that won't work."

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One of my most valuable failures came at an early age, when I failed to convince a major publishing house to buy out Student Magazine. While they wanted to focus on distribution methods and details, I began explaining my vision for a whole host of new Student enterprises, from magazines to travel companies to banks. They ran a mile. Thankfully, that failure gave me the opportunity to set about doing everything I could to build the businesses I believed in. Fast-forward half a century and Virgin spans even more sectors than I dreamed of as a teenager.

To get thinking positively about failure, I'd love to hear what you think is your own greatest failure - the time you thought everything had gone wrong, but it turned out you have learned an invaluable lesson. Let me know in the comments below. 

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