Get comfortable with failure

Get comfortable with failure

We’re living in an increasingly competitive, highly accelerated and extremely cautious world in which disruptions happen every day and problems never seen before are being created on a daily basis.

Given this condition, those who are willing to take risks, step out of their comfort zone and venture into the unknown at the stake of uncertainty will be those who will reap the biggest rewards.

Truth be told, we can never hope to achieve success unless we’re willing to embrace change and risk and the discomfort of failure. In fact, I’d say in this era we must be willing to get comfortable with failure if we want to stay relevant.

Throughout our careers, it is crucial that we continually evaluate whether we are letting our fear of failure — or for Asian culture in particular, the fear of losing face — keep us from taking action or trying new things that can advance us or create the impact we need.

Surely, taking chances or risks means that failures will be unavoidable and not everything you try will work out ,but somehow that’s they only way that one can ever accomplish anything.

Still, I know that failures can be perceived as signs of weakness; hence, most leaders hold the mindset that they can never fail. It is unfair to burden our leaders with such expectations, especially now that we’re in a disruptive era when rapid changes in technology and communication mean that no one person can possibly “know” everything to the point that they can never fail. In this regard, I’d say that this weak shared mindset needs to be changed. 

Rather, we must embrace the fact that if leaders never try anything new, never take any risks, then they can never make any breakthrough discoveries and business simply stagnates. Also, we need to encourage everyone to stop stigmatising failure. In most organisations, the sad fact remains that when people do fail, they feel embarrassed, they are likely to miss out on promotions and bonuses, and their professional reputation suffers.

As a leader you need to do two things: become a role model in embracing failure and change the culture to celebrate failure along with changing the system to fail earlier, faster and more cheaply.

As leader, you have a critical role to play in showing your people that it is more than okay to fail. Instead, let’s look at it this way: failure isn’t that bad as after a few failures you start to become more resilient, then you get more comfortable with it. You become willing to try something else, and if you fail again and you will learn to fail forward not backward. 

Also, it’s your responsibility to establish the new mindset of celebrating failure. Make it your organisational culture that everyone celebrates failures for the learning that it can bring on the journey to finding a great solution. In fact, you should be worried if you’re not failing because that means you’re not being innovative enough at a time when innovation is essential for keeping your business in the market.

I’ve said this a few times already but I think it’s crucial that I mention it again: When I talk about celebrating failure I don’t mean failure caused by negligent or unprofessional behaviour. I mean failure that comes from trying something different with the intention of finding a better way of serving customer needs — experimenting, exploring, and finding out what works and what doesn’t. 

It’s also important to understand the full implication of the term “celebrate failure”. It’s not the failure itself that you’re celebrating; it’s the learning that comes from that failure and which moves you closer to the right solution. 

It’s important to remember to actually celebrate too. “Celebrate” doesn’t just mean tolerate or ignore failure — it means publicly recognise people for trying something, failing, learning, and trying again. Promote people who do fail and learn over those that play it safe. Some companies even hold parties to celebrate failures — or rather to celebrate moving a step closer to the solution.

Last but not least, another vital step in building people’s confidence to get comfortable with failure, to risk something and try a different approach, is to encourage them to use fast prototyping and testing with real customers. If you want people to be more comfortable with experimentation, teach them the skills to fail fast, fail early and fail cheaply — and so succeed faster. 

The bottom line is that I know that failure can be discomforting for many. It is difficult to be willing to step into the unknown and take risks, but sooner rather than later you will need to learn (and lead others in most cases) to embrace failure as part of experimentation. Even when it’s not easy, it’s becoming more of a necessity and less of an option in today’s world. 


Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC (formerly APMGroup) Southeast Asia's leading executive, leadership and innovation capability development centre. She can be reached by email at or

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