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Peter Bellas: Is it OK to fail?

Posted: June 26, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: June 26, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Peter Bellas Peter Bellas
Peter Bellas

I was struck by the lead-in to an article in the Wall Street Journal:

“When South Korean President Park Geun-hye met Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg this week she praised the social-networking company for taking on challenges without fear of failure.

Her comment resonated in South Korea’s burgeoning startup culture, which is spreading a message that has long been anathema in the U.S.: It’s OK to fail.”

Certainly most people are failure-averse and being labeled as a failure seems to have little redeeming value. So I wondered, is it really “OK to fail”?

At this year’s University of Rochester commencement Steven Chu, Nobel laureate, said, “It’s OK to fail, as long as you give it your best, fail fast and move on quickly. Now you ask: How do you do that? How do you fail fast? And efficiently? You think about the problem, and you work on the most critical and essential part of the challenge first — don’t do the easy stuff.”

We have all heard of famous failures who later became successful: Thomas Edison, Michael Jordan, J.K. Rowling, Colonel Sanders, etc. So what is it about their failures, or how they responded to them, that ultimately made them successful?

Here is a short list of some perspective about failure:

Accept that all ventures have a potential for failure. Use a risk/reward analysis to look at acceptable risks. Failure is not a commentary on us as people, it is an outcome to a venture. It says that what we tried didn’t work, not that we are a failure as a person.

Understand that failure (in many ways) is more helpful than success. Thomas Edison, when working on the light bulb (finding a durable filament) experienced many failures. After failing innumerable times, he was asked how he could continue in the face of such failure. He said, in essence, “I have not failed; I have succeeded in finding a thousand ways NOT to make a light bulb.”

Failing is a good way to keep us grounded and humble and rewards our persistence. Success can be misleading because we often don’t know why we succeeded. We are usually painfully aware of why we’ve failed!

If you are going to fail, fail fast. Look at the critical piece of the venture and spend your resources making sure that it is viable. This “proof of concept” will be a go/no go milestone in your venture.

There will always be a number of “gateways” in any venture, items that will determine if it will be ultimately successful. Address these first. Also, in the initial planning, look at exit strategies (for success as well as failure).
When failure is inevitable, do it as quickly and efficiently as possible. Much time, effort and money are often expended trying to pull victory from the jaws of defeat.

Look at your venture with a critical and honest eye and if failure is inevitable, execute your exit strategy.

Don’t stop. Once you fail, don’t sit around and be depressed! Move on to your next venture, project, or idea. Go on to your next failure, keep failing until you win.

When you look at those famous failures in the beginning of the article there is one thing they all had in common – persistence.

Pete Bellas is the COC Dean of Economic Development at College of the Canyons. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. For more information about the College of the Canyons Economic Development Division, call (661) 362-3521 or visit



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