Lessons in Failure From the World’s Best Entrepreneurs

on July 20, 2017
Failure is an inevitable part of success. Here are 4 of the most important lessons Jobs, Bezos, Musk, and Zuckerberg have leveraged in their journeys.

Failure is inherent in business and entrepreneurship. In fact, many entrepreneurs consider failure to be a natural stepping stone to success. They celebrate failure, because they’ve learned firsthand that our mistakes are our greatest sources of learning.

Here are 4 lessons about failure and making mistakes from some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs.

1. Embrace Failure as A Side Effect of Innovation.

“I’ve made billions of dollars of failures at Amazon.com. Literally billions of dollars of failures,” said Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos.

However, he has never let his failures stop him. In his first letter to shareholders in 1997, Bezos wrote, “We will continue to learn from both our successes and our failures.” Since then, almost every letter to Amazon’s shareholders has contained the words “invent” and “fail”–continually emphasizing how tolerance for failure is a large part of Amazon’s culture and success.

In the 2014 shareholder letter, Bezos wrote, “Failure comes part and parcel with invention. It’s not optional. We understand that and believe in failing early and iterating until we get it right.”

Similarly, in the 2016 shareholder letter, Bezos wrote, “One area where I think we are especially distinctive is failure. I believe we are the best place in the world to fail (we have plenty of practice!).” He advises, “Given a ten percent chance of a 100 times payoff, you should take that bet every time. But you’re still going to be wrong nine times out of ten.”

2. You May Fail, But Progress is Worth It.

Tesla and SpaceX Founder Elon Musk embodies the popular quote, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” He prides himself on having a “resume of epic failures.”

Regarding Tesla, he shared, “I thought we would most likely fail. But I thought that we at least could address the false perception people have that an electric car had to be ugly and slow and boring like a golf cart.”

That raised the question: why try if you didn’t expect to succeed?

Musk’s response? “If something’s important enough you should try. Even if you know the probable outcome is failure.”

By taking risks in the face of failure, Elon Musk has surely landed among the stars.

Regarding SpaceX, he said, “I want to be able to make sure that we have enough capital to survive at least three consecutive failures.”

He says, “Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.” In fact, he fully expects to fail himself. “If nothing else, we are committed to failing in a new way.”

3. Run Towards Your Mistakes and Learn from Them.

Mark Zuckerburg once advised, “don’t even bother trying to avoid mistakes because you’re going to make tons of mistakes.”

He said the most important thing is, “learning quickly from whatever mistakes you make and not giving up…you bounce back and you learn. Nothing is impossible, you just have to keep running through the walls.”

He believes the most successful people also make the most mistakes. In a 2015 town hall Q&A session, he said “If you’re successful, most of the things you’ve done were wrong…What ends up mattering is the stuff you get right.”

“You’re going to make a ton of mistakes…it doesn’t matter. You don’t get judged by the mistakes, people don’t remember those years from now, they remember the things you did that were good,” he said.

4. Mistakes Will Be Made. You Can’t Always Please Everyone, But Focus on What You’re Good At.

In 1985, Steve Jobs was ousted from his position at Apple due to unsuccessful sales of the Lisa Computer. During his absence from the company that he co-founded, Jobs took over Pixar and started a computer company called NeXT, whose later purchase by Apple brought Jobs back to Apple.

In 1997, Jobs took the stage at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), shortly after returning to Apple. An attendee criticized Jobs’ choice to cease multiple programs, including a promising technology called OpenDoc. His response:

“You know, you can please some of the people, some of the time. But, one of the hardest things when you’re trying to affect change is that people, like this gentleman, are right in some areas.”

He explained that you have to prioritize the customer experience and work backwards to the technology, which meant narrowing down the number of projects to focus on a cohesive vision.

“I readily admit that there are many things in life that I don’t have the faintest idea of what I’m talking about, so I apologize for that too…Some mistakes will be made along the way by the way. That’s good. Because at least some decisions are being made along the way, and we’ll find the mistakes, and we’ll fix them,” he shared.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” ~Winston Churchill