What to learn from Failure

Failure. The fabled word. For some it's the apocalypse. For others it has become a badge of honor.

Failure is the state or condition of not meeting a desirable or intended objective, and may be viewed as the opposite of success. [Source: Wikipedia]

The Lean Startup movement (wow - is that really a movement? Or more a fashion or even a fad?) teaches us to "fail fast". There is now a successful conference which focusses on nothing else but failure (FailCon).

And yet - I ask myself: In the grand scheme of things -- what do you learn from failure (especially the failure of others)?

One can argue that, as Thomas J. Watson stated, "if you want to succeed, [you need to] double your failure rate". This might be true for your own experimentation - as with every failure you eliminate one way of doing things wrongly. On the flip side of that argument - assuming that there are a thousand ways to skin a cat (as they say), every failure only eliminates one of those 1,000 options. Which still leaves you with an incredibly small chance of success.

This might be worth doing if you learn from your own failures (as Thomas J. Watson did) but I would argue that it does little for you when you try to learn from the failures of others. All you learn is - what not to do. Wouldn't it be much more helpful to learn what works?

So - next time you talk to a successful entrepreneur (or inventor or someone you want to learn something from) ask what made him successful and learn from that. Otherwise you only learn one way of 1,000 ways of "what not to do".