Failure is a Catalyst for Innovation

Have you ever been afraid to take a step of faith because you were worried you might fail? Have you ever hesitated because you didn’t want to make a mistake? I certainly have.

I was a high school dropout by the age of fifteen. But I wanted to go to college. At twenty-two, I had applied and been accepted on probation due to my poor record. I was excited but extremely nervous to actually attend. What if I failed and dropped out of school again? The fear almost held me back, but fortunately I decided to go regardless. Now, I not only have a bachelor’s degree but a doctorate as well. If I let the fear of failure stop me from going to college so many years ago, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Why are we so afraid to make a wrong move, even in small situations? Whether we were taught we must be perfect by our family or society or even ourselves, the truth is, making mistakes is part of life and helps us grow. As Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

It’s true—our failures are likely not as catastrophic as we think they are, and our mistakes won’t cause our world to crumble. Yet, we place so much weight on ourselves to not mess up—we only want the victories without the failures.

Our failures are likely not as catastrophic as we think they are, and our mistakes won’t cause our world to crumble.

However, failures are equally valuable to victories. Sure, victories are much more enjoyable, but both victory and failure help us grow and learn. They each mold us, giving us new perspectives. In fact, it is our unique experiences with failing and succeeding that shapes our thoughts and ideas. Every victory or failure, every beautiful moment or ugly moment, every aspect of our life forms us into the version of ourselves that we are today—and gives us a distinctive understanding of the world.



In fact, mistakes can guide you in developing new strategies and thinking innovatively. In an earlier post about grit and resilience, I quoted Thomas Edison about inventing the lightbulb: “I have not failed. I've just found 1,000 ways that won't work.” He used his failures to learn about how electricity works—and how it doesn’t. He finally had an “aha” moment after many, many failures.

Mistakes can guide you in developing new strategies and thinking innovatively.

Anyone can have an “aha!” moment, including you. These moments aren’t reserved for “special” people. It’s a matter of intentionally using your own experiences to develop a solution that will solve a problem, and not giving up until you’ve found that solution.



Remember, your “aha” moment doesn’t have to come like a bolt of lightning; my own moments have often come only after years of methodical processes. Expecting an idea to arrive instantly may hinder you from dedicating a long period of time and concentration to overcoming whatever issue you are facing. Time and focus are necessary, though, so be prepared to mull over ideas for a while. Of course, if an “aha” moment hits you, run with it!

Stop being afraid to make a mistake. Stop dreading failure. Start testing new ideas. Making errors is part of life and can be beneficial if you allow yourself to learn from them. Even one mistake may give you the unique perspective needed to come up with a new breakthrough idea.