Why Stories About Failure Are So Helpful

Failure.

It’s no longer a dirty word to utter or admit in entrepreneurial and corporate circles. In fact, many entrepreneurs and businesses are embracing sharing stories of failure because they understand the value of these stories.

Sharing what doesn’t work is just as valuable (maybe more) as sharing what does work.

In science, it is every researcher’s dream to test a hypothesis and find statistically significant results confirming that they were right. However, publishing research findings showing that there were no statistically significant results for those elements is equally important to the research community. It shows that those confounders aren’t relevant to your problem.

Failure in a Public Health Study

Case study: In 2005, Michael Watson and his public health colleagues conducted a randomized controlled trial where 3,400 some odd families with children under 5 were provided child safety equipment to prevent injuries.

They studied whether a child in the family had at least one injury that required medical attention and if they sought hospital admission for injuries over the course of a two year period. Their hypothesis was that providing safety equipment and medical advice to these families would reduce the number of injuries seen in the family. Afterall, safety equipment provides a protective effect, no? Seems logical.

However, they found NO SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE in the number of medically attended injuries between the families who had the safety equipment and those who didn’t. Basically, kids will be kids regardless of the safety equipment they have. You can satisfy your nerdy side with the full article here.

Was their study a failure or did it provide interesting results?

I’d argue that these non-significant results were very helpful in directing future researchers to various study designs when it comes to studying families and child injury prevention. Their study informed pediatricians and crafted the advice doctors gave their worried parental patients.

One can argue, quite successfully, that publishing non-significant results (or stories of failure) are extremely valuable in how we view our world and test our own hypotheses.

Failure is the new trend in business

“I’m still shocked at being considered an authority on robotics when I’m known for making robots that don’t work.” – Simone Giertz

Fail stories are finally being seen as something of worth in the business world and entrepreneurs are embracing their failures with open arms. Failory.com provides written interviews with start-up founders to dig into the reasons why their ideas failed. Entrepreneurs are sharing their F**kup stories on vlogs with Stefanie Koch on We Fucked Up, and the videos are entertaining to watch and reassuring to see.

Because learning what not to do is as valuable as learning what to do in business, young entrepreneurs are gobbling up failure stories for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Take a look at all of the books related to failure: The 10 Commandments for Business Failure, Secret to Startup Failure: Fail fast. Fail cheap. Fail happy., How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.

On Alie Ward’s Gizmology podcast, she chats with Simone Giertz from Shitty Robots (a super entertaining YouTube channel, by the way), about how her robot fail videos made her famous. Simone admits, “I’m still shocked at being considered an authority on robotics when I’m known for making robots that don’t work.”

Failure makes you human. Failure makes you relatable.

The Old Guard (looking at you, my lovely gray-haired/bearded experts in your field of choice) have kept their mistakes a secret—always wanting to be perceived as the all-knowing, wise, and knowledgeable specialists. But, when those all-knowing experts are always on the conference call, they stifle their colleagues’ desire to speak up and offer their ideas.

Former Florida State Epidemiologist, Richard Hopkins, is a tall, white-bearded man who would regale me with stories about his bassoon playing vacations in Bozeman, Montana. During a “long table discussion” (you know, those where all of the experts sit at a long table and rabble on at one another) he pulled me close and whispered in my ear, “I’m not going to answer any questions so, you’d better be ready to speak up. You know as much on this topic as I do.”

Other people’s fear of failing in front of an expert actually hinders growth and progress.

Being a young, relatively inexperienced female epidemiologist sitting at the table next to a veritable expert with over 30 years of experience, I took his permission to heart. I was grateful that he explicitly gave my ideas equal validity as his own despite the discrepancy of years of experience in the field.

Later, during one of the coffee breaks, he said, “I’ve found that whenever I offer up my opinions on a topic, it shuts everyone else down and a lot of good ideas go unsaid. We need more new ideas coming to the table, not less.”

In short, other people’s fear of failing in front of an expert actually hinders growth and progress.

This is why we need more experts to share more of their stories of failure with their colleagues and especially with people seeking to enter their field. In doing so, we will all understand that growth cannot happen without failing and that it is only through failure that we can improve.

Share your failures story with someone and you’ll find that sharing your mistakes makes you more human, more relatable, and more empathetic toward others. You’ll gain more admiration and respect in your field of expertise.

Failure shows persistence

Tim Ferriss sent his 4 Hour Workweek book to 25 publishers before someone finally accepted it. Dr. Seuss’s first book was rejected by 27 publishers before it was accepted. Walt Disney filed bankruptcy after starting several businesses and failing at them all. Continuously failing means that you improve the next time and the next until you reach greatness.

So, head out there and fail your heart out. You might just inspire someone.

Are you ready to learn from my mistakes? I share all of my failures with my clients so they can learn what not to do when it comes to self-publishing and crowdfunding their book.