How Failure Can Lead to Innovation

InnovationYou’ve probably heard the expressions “fail fast” or “fail forward”.  I know I use those phrases often when I’m coaching business owners and helping them through a challenge/failure of some kind. I often refer to the importance of reframing the situation and being open to the lessons that can be learned. Often, though, my clients have a hard time letting go of the failure and it becomes hard to not take it personally. The expression “it’s business, not personal” takes on a whole new meaning when it’s your hard earned money, your time and your effort that did not yield the results you wanted. I get that. I empathize and then I put on my coach hat and start asking questions.

Over the years I’ve read books and research papers on the notion of failure as a tool for learning.  I’ve also listened to many TED Talks. Here are 2 of my favorite ones on the subject of failure. Each has a different twist, but the overall theme is that successful people embrace and are open to what happens or should happen when something doesn’t go according to plan.

Embrace the Near Win, by Sarah Lewis

Here are some excerpts:


  • The pursuit of mastery, in other words, is an ever-onward almost.
  • Mastery is in the reaching, not the arriving. It’s in constantly wanting to close that gap between where you are and where you want to be. Mastery is about sacrificing for your craft and not for the sake of crafting your career. How many inventors and untold entrepreneurs live out this phenomenon?
  • We thrive when we stay at our own leading edge. It’s a wisdom understood by Duke Ellington, who said that his favorite song out of his repertoire was always the next one, always the one he had yet to compose. Part of the reason that the near win is inbuilt to mastery is because the greater our proficiency, the more clearly we might see that we don’t know all that we thought we did.

Don’t Fail Fast, Fail Mindfully, by Leticia Gasca

FailureHere are some excerpts:

  • men and women react in a different way after the failure of a business. The most common reaction among men is to start a new business within one year of failure, but in a different sector, while women decide to look for a job and postpone the creation of a new business.
  • Our hypothesis is that this happens because women tend to suffer more from the impostor syndrome. We feel that we need something else to be a good entrepreneur. But I have seen that in many, many cases women have everything that’s needed. We just need to take the step. And in the case of men, it is more common to see that they feel they have enough knowledge and just need to put it in practice in another place with better luck.
  • And I want to propose a new mantra: fail mindfully. We must remember that businesses are made of people, businesses are not entities that appear and disappear magically without consequences. When a firm dies, some people will lose their jobs. And others will lose their money. And in the case of social and green enterprises, the death of this business can have a negative impact on the ecosystems or communities they were trying to serve.
  • But what does it mean to fail mindfully? It means being aware of the impact, of the consequences of the failure of that business. Being aware of the lessons learned. And being aware of the responsibility to share those learnings with the world.

“Fail, fail again, fail better,” Samuel Beckett

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Nancy Allen


G. Nancy Allen is an international speaker, coach, consultant and expert on women’s business issues. Nancy has over 30 years of experience helping small business owners at all stages of growth. As President and CEO of WBDC Florida/Her Company Incorporated, Nancy manages and leads an incredible team of staff, sponsors, partners and women business leaders who are dedicated to certifying, connecting and championing women in business. Nancy has been recognized for her work on behalf of women in business through numerous prestigious awards: -Nancy was recently honored by the International Career and Business Alliance (ICABA) as one of South Florida’s 100 most accomplished Caribbean Americans. She is especially proud of this award because it highlights her heritage as well as her professional accomplishments. -Nancy is the recipient of the World Women Leadership Achievement Award from the World Women Leadership Congress -Nancy is also the proud recipient of the Association Marketing Award from Women in ECommerce. -Most recently Nancy was named Honorary Ambassador of Cascais, Portugal by the Ambassador’s Club of the Industry Sector of Cascais and the Estoril Coast. Nancy’s personal motto is Connections, Creativity and Courage in all endeavors. She holds a Master’s Degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS, 1982). She was born in Haiti and raised in South Florida. Nancy is bi-lingual in English and French and is fluent in Spanish and Creole.