When British employers discuss what is undermining their country’s competiveness in global markets, the UK’s education system is usually at or near the top of the list. Many state schools are failing both business and young people by turning out potential employees – and entrepreneurs – with inadequate skills and unhelpful attitudes.
So a headline that a girl’s school was holding a “failure week” was enough to make the blood boil. Of all the bad attitudes instilled by poor education, the worst is low expectations – especially among girls.
Yet, on reading the full article, the headline proved to be very misleading. Given the negative culture of too many schools, especially in deprived areas, you might have a right to suppose that a “failure week” meant a week of preparing young people for the life of failure to which their useless education condemns them. In fact, the opposite is true. The “failure week” is not about failure at all. It is about success – and the role of failure in achieving that success.
There is a paradox of success and failure. You cannot get something for nothing. Success demands risk – and extraordinary success demands extraordinary risk. The possibility of failure is the price of risk – which leads to the almost mathematical conclusion that the possibility of success has a positive correlation with the possibility of failure.
In other words, successful people succeed more because they risk more, and because they risk more they also fail more. The biographies of most highly successful people include long lists of failures. Indeed, the average high achiever will fail far more often than someone who plays it safe all his life. The mediocrity avoids failure, but he also avoids success.
If you never fail, it means you are not testing your limits and therefore you are living below your potential – which is perhaps the greatest failure of all.
The key to success lies in how you respond to failure. If you just lie there after being knocked down, moaning and complaining and blaming everyone and everything but yourself, you will remain a failure. The success is not the person who never gets knocked down, but the one who gets knocked down and then has the courage to pick himself up again and the intelligence to learn from his mistakes as he rejoins the fray.
People like that succeed because they keep coming back until they do. They will be beaten but they are hard to beat.