Embracing and Understanding Failure

It’s time we start talking about failure and how to move past it. We live in a world surrounded by success and failure, however, we often only embrace, share, and communicate our successes. Why is it that innovators and entrepreneurs are the only ones seeing opportunities within the failures of others? Are we all simply afraid?

Together, let’s begin to understand that failure is inevitable and when accepted and not challenged, we have the ability to learn and grow. We must first begin with understanding the principles behind our challenges with overcoming failures.

A Deeper Look Into Failures

Personal Bias

You are your biggest critic. Often your library of experiences is what’s holding you back from where you aim to be. It’s important to remember that just because you’ve failed, that doesn’t mean the whole process needs to be redesigned. Take the lessons learned from your experiences and document them as an encouragement to reframe the next setback as an opportunity.

Shared Responsibility

So often we lead with our ego and want the fault to be placed on someone else, whether it’s the client or another person on the team. However, more often than not the fault is shared amongst both the teacher and the student and we must ultimately take responsibility for our part in the setback.

Overcoming Challenges


Conduct after-action reviews and have retrospectives to evaluate both the successes and failures of an event. Using these materials, take notes and begin to ask yourself questions to help you prepare for what to do next.

Explore the following questions:

  • Use the “five whys” technique to pinpoint the core reason for failure.
  • What was my part?
  • What could the team have done differently?

Learn not to take the failure personally. While it’s natural to do this, it takes away from the learning process.


Change your mindset. Nothing is truly a failure. Failure simply provides you with an opportunity to learn. By opening yourself up, you allow failures to not only motivate you but drive you to seek help and guidance on your path to improvement.


As a leader, it’s your responsibility to make decisions, allocate resources, and leverage the skills of your employees and team. But most importantly, you must establish a strong environment that supports learning from failures. To do so, you must:

  • Lead and organize after-action reviews
  • Encourage your team to ask questions
  • Incorporate and foster continuous feedback and ideas
  • Allow your team to be vulnerable

All in all, you must guide your team and understand their reluctance when it comes to failures. When you notice resistance, question their motives and intent. Resistance demonstrates a sign of commitment, but it’s important to understand where this commitment comes from.

Final Thoughts

Ask yourself…“Am I ready to improve?” “Am I ready to accept failure and change?”

Use these questions to guide your mindset as you navigate through life. Failures aim to teach us a valuable lesson. From our failures, we learn more about ourselves, our abilities, and those of our team. But to fully understand and accept failure, we must look deeper into ourselves. We must get rid of our defensive nature and remain open to feedback.

Educator + Entrepreneur who lives for the “aha!” moment. Co-Founder @theberkeleyinnovationgroup, @healthcarebydesign. Lecturer of Design Thinking @BerkeleyHaas.