Failure IS An Option

February 10, 2009


By Laurie Clarke, Chief Operating Officer, The Tatham Group

“Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” – Cliff Bleszenski’s

 “What a good workout!  You worked every muscle in your body to failure.”  These are the words of my personal trainer.  It’s 6:30am, I’m exhausted and aching everywhere.  “Why is this a good thing?”  She then goes on to explain that it is only when our muscles fail that a signal is sent to build them so that they can be stronger for next time.  Interesting.  I need to fail so that I can grow.

 It’s all about timing and balance

 I was ready to hear this message after four months of training to bring about visible results.  If I had been told this, or if my exercise plans had started off this way, I would have given up on my journey to physical fitness before I even got started.  The idea of failing every time I try something is not a good one.  Especially for someone who has never been physically active, and a bit of a perfectionist, like me. 

 I needed an expert to help show me the way.  I had no idea how to balance my workout to get results and not injure myself.  Doing physical therapy for my knee every other day is a good reminder of that.  I’m learning more than just the technique, I have a coach helping me realize my accomplishments and motivating me to get to the gym at least 2-3 times a week.   She’s helping me change my lifestyle – to push myself to failure so that I can continue to improve.

 This isn’t new thinking

 Innovation and growth is all about failure.  As an expert in the Tatham Approach, I coach companies to celebrate failures as they identify opportunities.  I apply the same mentality my trainer does all of the time.   Failure in a safe environment with a guide is what pushes people, teams and organizations to breakthrough performance. 

 I smile and get excited when people follow a process even though it doesn’t produce the desired outcome or a team completes an experiment that proves the root cause has not been found.  However, like our clients, I sometimes need convincing that failure is necessary in order to succeed.  So I decided to gather a few quotes I find inspiring and to share them with you to assure you that you are in good company while failing.

 I haven’t failed, I’ve found 10000 ways that don’t work” – Thomas Edison

  “Failure is our most important product” – R.W. Johnson Jr

 “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career.  I’ve lost almost 300 games.  26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed.  I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.  And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

 So why is it almost impossible to do? 

 It’s hard.  It’s a new way of thinking more than a way of acting.  We can only become comfortable accepting and welcoming failure as a way to grow after we see some results to motivate us. The hard part is sticking with it long enough to get some results.  We offer some keys to success for our clients to get them started on their companys’ journey:

1.     Pick a problem/process to work on that is manageable

2.     Gain and keep momentum by working on something you really want to change

3.     Get results (big or small) and make a big deal about them

4.     Repeat

 Eventually your confidence will build.  Then you can work on larger processes, expand into new markets or, like me, have a difficult time moving all muscles in your body for a few hours.


  • Excellent post Laurie!

    A nice video from Honda to reinforce your post:


    It’s been making it’s rounds online so you may have already seen it.

    And for the MJ fans:

  • Thank you Viktor. I enjoyed watching the Honda video – I hadn’t seen it before but will use it with our teams in the future. – Laurie

  • I never saw the Honda video either…really inspirational! I always loved the success defined by failure Jordan commercial because most people don’t think or see all of the failures Michael Jordan had throughout his life. The failures are out shinned by the few amazing successes. One that comes to mind is getting cut from his high school basketball team. This failure positioned him to make a choice: work hard and get better, or move on to something else like baseball (:

    Here is the MJ commercial: