Why failure is good …

At the end of May this year the results of the 12th CBSE board exams were announced. This year nearly 1.1 million candidates appeared for the Class 12 exams, which were held between March 9 and April 29. Girls as always performed better than boys as out of 4,60,026 girls 87.50% passed and 78% of 6,38,865 boys cleared the exam. There were also 2449 disabled students who appeared for the 12th CBSE board exam and 2123 of them passed. First of all, the numbers are staggering. 1.1 million is close to the entire population of Cyprus and there are nearly 75 countries with population lesser than this number !! Anyway, my focus in this blog is not on the staggering numbers but on something else.

While 900,000+ students cleared their exams and many of them did exceptionally well with the highest score being 99.6%, there are approximately 200,000 students who no one is speaking about, because they failed to clear their exams. This post is for them and for anyone who fails at something. My argument is, failure is good.

Failure is good because it builds character, the ability to pick yourself up after falling down and try again. I always remember the time when Krishnan and I went bankrupt in 1996. The six years that it took us to rebuild ourselves were probably the best years of our life from the perspective of building our character, developing our resolve and strengthening our relationship. We made several mistakes and learnt from each one of them. We came out of our bankruptcy a lot wiser and stronger. The idea of giving back to the community also emerged during these six years and ShikshaDaan Foundation is the result of that. Failure is good only if you learn from it and get back up to try again armed with new learning.

Failure is good because it means that you are trying something different and something that is probably innovative. Remember the famous Edison quote when asked about failing a 1000 times to create the now ubiquitous light bulb ? He said “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.” In the corporate world though, failure is feared in most organizations, but again, the most innovative organizations are the ones where failure is appreciated and there is no stigma attached to it. I have always had a simple philosophy while interviewing candidates for managerial roles, if they haven’t failed at something, it always meant they hadn’t tried enough. Its not wrong to fail, its definitely wrong not to try. There is no spectacularly successful person who hasn’t failed miserably at something. Its not that you seek failure, but failure does occur when you try something new. Sometimes you succeed in the first try and then fail at some other stage, often times you fail in the first few tries and then succeed. Take the risk, try that new idea, you will feel alive.

Failure is good because sometimes it tells you that you need to take a different direction. I don’t subscribe to the school of thought that says “Never give up” because sometimes you do need to give up what you are doing and move in a different direction. Again going back to our bankruptcy, a retired IAS officer who was a regular customer at our bookshop was the one who told us to “cut our losses” and shut down the businesses as we were unable to earn enough profits to sustain them. We were caught in a debt spiral and he was SO right in nudging us to “give up” and change the direction of our lives. I shudder to think if we had continued to “never give up” … we probably would have been forced to exit with a much higher loss. The most famous of all failure-turned-successful personalities is Colonel Sanders, the man behind KFC.

Colonel Sanders, was 62 when he franchised Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1952, which he sold for $2 million 12 years later. Before serving up his amazing renowned original recipe for fried chicken, Sanders held several odd jobs including country lawyer, gas station operator, and railroad worker besides being on the social security program because he was penniless. He was a failure for pretty much his entire “productive years” in a way. He had to find a different direction to succeed. 

So failure might sometimes mean that you need to find a different direction to succeed.

For all the 200,000 students who failed in the 12th boards this year, I hope parents encourage them to try again and work harder, but also tell them to learn from this failure. This failure to clear the all important board exam should build their resolve and also make them think of what they are truly interested in – maybe some of them dont enjoy the formal education system but are super creative/skilled in some field. Help them pursue that. While education certainly helps, great grades alone do not predict success. Infact the toppers may struggle to fulfil the higher expectations.

Do watch this commencement speech by J K Rowling, a modern day super success built upon utter failure and remember failure is good. Wallowing in failure and not getting up again is definitely not good. So get up, dust yourself off and try something new or try the same thing again armed with new learning !

The fringe benefits of failure – J K Rowling.

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