How good are you at successfully failing?

by Bill Scheessele, chairman and CEO of MBDi

The philosophy of risking, failing and learning is one of the most powerful concepts to embrace to further yourself personally and professionally.

How many times have you decided to change because you are not satisfied with the current results your programs, projects or prospects delivered, and then backed off when the psychological and/or physical discomfort of the unfamiliar set in? Loosening your hold on the certain or the status quo to strive for something better is risky business. It carries with it the risk of failure.

Risking is the act of letting go — letting go of something you are certain of and reaching out for something you are not sure of, but believe it is better than what you have. In every risk situation there is an unavoidable loss, something that has to be given up in order to move forward. Success depends more on your willingness to risk than being concerned about what happens if you fail.

I contend that when you are unhappy with where you are, you should be willing to risk — risk getting out of your comfort zone and risk failure. Only by risking failure are you likely to succeed in anything. Too many people waste their lives thinking their objective is to succeed, when in reality all they are doing is avoiding failure. Further, in their avoidance of failure, they have blocked their deepest creative forces within that can make a life fulfilling, exciting and meaningful.

In the energy field, the advent of non-regulated businesses offer opportunities for utility professionals to leave the regulated side and join non-regulated “intrepreneurial” ventures, where the risk of succeeding or failing is a reality. For some professionals, this means leaving a safe customer service role and taking on a business development opportunity with revenue and profit objectives. That’s quite a leap.

But what of failure? Is the act of failing good or bad? I choose to think of failure as being neither good nor bad. It is simply an essential part of the human condition. Failure is universal. Every one of us grows up with it, and as business professionals we must be willing to learn from our failures.

In the act of successfully failing, there are five steps: disbelief, fear, anger, acceptance and learning. When we fail, we first experience disbelief. You might say, “I can’t believe this is happening.” Then there is fear, the fear of personal loss or dire consequences. Ultimately, we know that on the other side of every fear is a freedom. There is an advantage in the wisdom won from pain. Anger, on the other hand, can be controlled, focused and transformed into perseverance, passion, conviction and desire. Acceptance is an awakening that allows us to understand that every failure is also an opportunity for a new start and a fresh beginning.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best: “Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” The learning part of failure is quite obvious. Every failure represents a lesson. Every failure adds another level of wisdom.

Consider this: The most successful business professionals have failed more than anyone who is a true failure thought possible. In the act of failing successfully there are many lessons and opportunities. There is a lesson and opportunity to better understand your strengths and weaknesses. There is a lesson and opportunity to re-assess your priorities of goals and roles. There is a lesson and opportunity to learn or refine your business getting skills and level of thinking. There is a lesson and opportunity to strengthen your gut system. Success and failure are deeply intertwined. As Colin Powell once said, “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure.”

Are you ready to risk failure? Are you prepared to fail your way into success? How good are you at successfully failing?

Bill Scheessele is chairman and CEO of MBDi, an international business development consultancy based in Charlotte, NC. MBDi serves industries that offer technical intellectual capital as their primary products and services, including energy firms. Scheessele can be reached at 704-553-0000 (Ext 11) or by email at For more information visit

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