Nobody wants to fail. Whenever we do anything, we want to succeed. But if we never fail, how to we ever improve?
I have seen failure up close and personal on many, many occasions over five decades in business. Joining me in the esteemed club of people who have failed, I count pretty much every entrepreneur who has ever lived. When it comes to starting businesses, failure at some stage is a near-certainty.
Thankfully, failure is the most useful opportunity for learning and improving we have available to us. With each failure, we improve. This was something I got to explore more deeply with the Matthew Syed and my nephew Noah Devereux from Big Change on a panel at Virgin HQ.
Matthew’s book, Black Box Thinking, details how being willing to learn from failure has shaped the development of entire industries. As he explained, every failure tells the market what doesn't work, and how to go about changing it. Failure has certainly shaped my career, from businesses like Virgin Cola to Virgin Brides. But that doesn’t mean you should court failure – you should embrace it if and when it arrives.
Failure is much less likely to happen if you are working with others. I pointed to an example from my adventures on the Virgin Strive Challenge, alongside Noah, my children and an amazing group of Strivers. If I was doing the Challenge on my own, I would have failed very quickly. With the team beside me, I was able to push myself to go further than I thought possible.
The same can be true for any situation, and any business. Together, we can ward off failure – but only for so long. Then, when failure crops up, together we can learn from it.
My success in life and in business has been driven be my ability to take calculated risks, talk openly about the times they haven’t paid off, learn from the outcomes, and live with the consequences – both good and bad. If nothing ever fails, then nothing ever improves. But we are human. We fail. And, crucially, we keep learning.