top of page

Racking Up Those Successful Failures

By Mike Jacoutot, Managing Partner

Having lost three years in a row in the finals of the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships, I think I speak from experience when I talk of failing and the importance attitude plays in your ability to learn from experience. I would like to share a great quote from Theodore Roosevelt:

“It's not the critic who counts. It's not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled. Credit belongs to the man who really was in the arena, his face marred by dust, sweat, and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs to come short and short again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming. It is the man who actually strives to do the deeds, who knows the great enthusiasm and knows the great devotion, who spends himself on a worthy cause, who at best, knows in the end the triumph of great achievement. And, who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and cruel souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

As we move through life, we take risks. We reach for the brass ring and sometimes, we come up short. Hopefully these become learning experiences or “successful failures.” A “successful failure” is a life experience where you set out to accomplish something… you failed…learned from that failure and you made the necessary adjustments. I have failed many times at many things in my life. I would like to think that I have learned from each and every one of those failures and that each one made me a little better. Thomas Edison said it best when he summarized his efforts on inventing the incandescent light, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." -

Here are six quick stories of famous people who have had their fair share of successful failures:

1. Abraham Lincoln: While today he is remembered as one of the greatest leaders of our nation, Lincoln’s life wasn’t so easy. In his youth he went to war a captain and returned a private (if you’re not familiar with military ranks, just know that private is as low as it gets). Lincoln didn’t stop there, however. He started numerous failed businesses, went bankrupt twice, and was defeated in 26 campaigns he made for public office.

2. J. K. Rowling: Rowling may be rolling in a lot of Harry Potter dough today, but before she published the series of novels, she was nearly penniless, severely depressed, divorced, and trying to raise a child on her own while attending school and writing a novel. Through hard work and determination (and a great book idea!), Rowling eventually went from depending on welfare to survive to being one of the richest women in the world in a span of only five years.

3. Ludwig van Beethoven: In his formative years, young Beethoven was incredibly awkward on the violin and was often so busy working on his own compositions that he neglected to practice. Despite his love of composition, his teachers felt he was hopeless at it and would never succeed with the violin or in composing. In fact, his music teacher told his parents he was too stupid to be a music composer.

4. Michael Jordan: It’s hard to believe that the man commonly lauded as the best basketball player of all time was actually cut from his high school basketball team. Luckily, Jordan didn’t let this setback stop him from playing the game, and as he once stated in a famous ad, “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game-winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

5. Stephen King: His first book, the iconic thriller Carrie, received 30 rejections, finally causing King to give up and throw it in the trash. His wife fished it out and encouraged him to resubmit it, and the rest is history, with King now having hundreds of books published and the distinction of being one of the best-selling authors of all time.

6. Charles Darwin: Chastised by his father for being lazy and too dreamy, Darwin himself once wrote that his father and teachers considered him rather below the common standard of intellect. When Darwin first presented his research on evolution, it was met with little enthusiasm. He continued to work on his theory of evolution when all of his colleagues called him a fool and said what he was doing “a fool’s experiment.”

Our sincere thanks to Brainscape for allowing us to share those six shining examples of resilience.

There is only one good thing about failures, you learn where you are weak, so that you may become strong. My senior year, I finally won that elusive championship—preventing me from making the history books as the first four-time runner-up in NCAA history. A recognition that no athlete ever wants!

At Butler Street, we help companies and their people grow. Our managing partners have over 100 years of “successful failures” and we can help you avoid the common pitfalls of implementing your company’s strategic initiatives. Click on CONTACT and let’s start the conversation.

bottom of page