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On Failure...


Hooray! It’s good to go wrong. Well, just so long as you notice that things didn’t turn out as you had wanted, and are prepared to learn from the experience. Mistakes can be happy just so long as you don’t turn away from them or hurry on by. Failure can be a hard taskmaster, but it can also be an Aladdin’s cave of discovery.

See also

courage, experimenting*, openness, problems, risk, surprise, truth*

and (below) Famous failures


Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.’

Scott Adams

‘All that a man achieves and all that he fails to achieve is the direct result of his own thoughts.’

James Allen

‘Failures are steps in the ladder of success.’

James Allen

‘If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sure sign that you’re not trying anything very innovative.’

Woody Allen

‘Errors using inadequate data are much less than those using no data at all.’

Charles Babbage

Truth emerges more readily from error than from confusion.’

Francis Bacon

‘To try and fail is at least to learn; to fail to try is to suffer the inestimable loss of what might have been.’

Chester Barnard

‘We are all failures–at least, the best of us are.’

James M. Barrie

‘Every tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’

Samuel Beckett

‘I made a wrong mistake.’

Yogi Berra

‘An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a very narrow field.’

Niels Bohr

Failure is the line of least persistence.’

Alfred Brandt

‘It takes sixty-five thousand errors before you are qualified to make a rocket.’

Werhner von Braun

‘We can lick gravity, but the paperwork’s a bit tougher.’

Werhner von Braun

‘To swear off making mistakes is very easy. All you have to do is swear off having ideas.’

Leo Burnett

Failure is the condiment which gives success its flavour.’

Truman Capote

‘Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.’

Dale Carnegie

‘Ninety-nine percent of failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.’

George Washington Carver

‘In great attempts it is glorious even to fail.’

Gaius Cassius

Success is never found. Failure is never fatal. Courage is the only thing.’

Winston Churchill

Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.’

Winston Churchill

‘Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error.’

Marcus Tullius Cicero

‘If I had permitted my failures, or what seemed to me at the time a lack of success, to discourage me I cannot see any way in which I would ever have made progress.’

Calvin Coolidge

Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.’

John Dewey

‘The most important of my discoveries have been suggested to me by failures.’

— Sir Humphry Davy

Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.’

John Dewey

‘You may not realise it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.’

Walt Disney

‘Results! Why man, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won’t work.’

Thomas Alva Edison

‘Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.’

Thomas Alva Edison

‘Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.’

Thomas Alva Edison

‘Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.’

Thomas Alva Edison

‘Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.’

Thomas Alva Edison

‘The stakes are immense, the task colossal, the time is short. But we may hope — we must hope — that man’s own creation, man’s own genius, will not destroy him.’

Albert Einstein

‘Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.’

Albert Einstein

‘The line between failure and success is so fine that we scarcely know when we pass it - so fine that we often are on the line and do not know it.’

Ralph Waldo Emerson

‘Appear to know only this––never to fail nor fall.’


‘To develop working ideas efficiently, I try to fail as fast as I can.’

Richard P. Feynman

‘Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.’

F. Scott Fitzgerald

‘From error to error one discovers the entire truth.’

Sigmund Freud

Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.’

Henry Ford

‘Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.’

Mahatma Gandhi

‘One of the reasons mature people stop learning is that they become less and less willing to risk failure.’

John W. Gardner

‘We pay a heavy price for our fear of failure. It is a powerful obstacle to growth. It assures the progressive narrowing of the personality and prevents exploration and experimentation. There is no learning without some difficulty and fumbling. If you want to keep on learning, you must keep on risking failure—all your life.’

John W. Gardner

‘A man may fail many times but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.’

J. Paul Getty

‘We’re all human and we all goof. Do things that may be wrong, but do something.’

Newt Gingrich

Success consists of getting up just one more time than you fall.’

Oliver Goldsmith

‘Our greatest glory consists not in never failing but in rising every time we fall.’

Oliver Goldsmith

‘No man ever became great or good except through many and great mistakes.’

William Gladstone

Success and failure are both difficult to endure. Along with success come drugs, divorce, fornication, bullying, travel, meditation, medication, depression, neurosis and suicide. With failure comes failure.’

Joseph Heller

‘The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.’

Elbert Hubbard

‘A failure is a man who has blundered but is not able to cash in the experience.’

Elbert Hubbard

People who don’t make mistakes are no bloody good to you at all.’
—John Harvey Jones

‘I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game-winning shot... and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that’s precisely why I succeed.’

Michael Jordan

‘An expert is someone who knows some of the worst mistakes that can be made in his subject and how to avoid them.’

Werner Heisenberg

‘If you hit every time, the target is either too big or too near.’

Tom Hirshfield

‘Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.’

Napoleon Hill

‘It is better to make a mistake than to do nothing.’

Adolf Hitler

‘Many people dream of success. To me, success can only be achieved through repeated failure and introspection.’

Soichiro Honda

Success is 99 percent failure.’

Soichiro Honda

‘There is no failure except in no longer trying. There is no defeat except from within, no really insurmountable barrier save our own inherent weakness of purpose.’

Elbert Hubbard

‘A failure is a man who has blundered, but is not able to cash in on the experience.’

Elbert Hubbard

‘In the great undertakings, there is glory, even in failure.’

Lee Iacocca

‘A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.’

James Joyce

‘Do not think of today’s failure, but of the success that may come tomorrow.’

Helen Keller

‘Those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly.’

John Fitzgerald Kennedy

‘Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.’

Robert Kennedy

‘The biggest job we have is to teach a newly hired employee how to fail intelligently. We have to train him to experiment over and over and to keep on trying and failing until he learns what will work.’

Charles F. Kettering

‘Be bold. If you’re going to make an error, make a doozy, and don’t be afraid to hit the ball.’

Billie Jean King

‘The freedom to fail is vital if you’re going to succeed. Most successful people fail from time to time, and it is a measure of their strength that failure merely propels them into some new attempt at success.’

Michael Korda

‘An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.’

Edwin Land

‘The greatest accomplishment is not in never failing, but in rising again after you fall.’

Vincent Lombardi

‘Not failure, but low aim, is crime.’

James Russell Lowell

‘To bear failure with courage is the best proof of character that anyone can give.’

W. Somerset Maugham

‘Only a mediocre write is always at his best.’

W. Somerset Maugham

Fear of failure is at least as common as the desire for success. In fact, if harnessed properly, it can be the energy that drives the wheel.’

Mark McCormack

‘He who has never failed somewhere, that man cannot be great.’

Herman Melville

‘Every failure teaches a man something, to wit, that he will probably fail again.’

H. L. Menken

‘Defeat doesn’t finish a man–quit does. A man is not finished when he is defeated. He’s finished when when he quits.’

Richard Nixon

‘An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.’

Isaac Newton

‘Why do eight out of ten new consumer products fail? Sometimes because they are too new. The first cold cereals were rejected by consumers. More often new products fail because they are not new enough.’

David Ogilvy

‘Give me the fruitful error any time, full of seeds, bursting with its own corrections. You can keep your sterile truth for yourself.’

Vilfredo Pareto

Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.’

George S. Patton

‘Most people give up just when they’re about to achieve success. They quit on the one yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game, one foot from a winning touchdown.’

Ross Perot

‘Failures are like skinned knees–painful, but superficial.’

Ross Perot

‘If you have made mistakes, even serious ones, there is always another chance for you. What we call failure is not the falling down, but the staying down.’

Mary Pickford

‘A man should never be ashamed to admit that he has been in the wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.’

Alexander Pope

‘You always pass failure on the way to success.’

Dan Quayle

‘You always pass failure on the way to success.’

Mickey Rooney

‘It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.’

Theodore Roosevelt

‘Far better it is to dare mighty things to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure…than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in a grey twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.’

Theodore Roosevelt

‘The great secret of success is to go through life as a man who never gets used to failing.’

Albert Schweitzer

‘What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?’

Robert Schuller

‘When I was a young man I observed that nine out of ten things I did were a failure. I didn’t want to be a failure, so I did ten times more work’.

George Bernard Shaw

‘A life spent making mistakes is not only more honourable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing’.

George Bernard Shaw

‘A failure is not always a mistake; it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying.

B. F. Skinner

‘He who never made a mistake never made a discovery.’

Samuel Smiles

‘We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success; we often find out what will do by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery.’

Samuel Smiles

‘Failure is not the enemy, but a life-changing experience. It is a human experience, and it prepares the way for us to grow and transform our lives.’

Sobonfu Somé

‘If I had thought about it, I wouldn’t have done the experiment. The literature was full of examples that said you can’t do this.’

Spencer Silver (inventor of Post-it adhesive)

‘Our business in life is not to succeed, but to continue to fail in good spirits.’

Robert Louis Stevenson

‘Give me the young man who has brains enough to make a fool of himself.’

Robert Louis Stevenson

‘It is only through failure and through experiment that we learn and grow.’

Isaac Stern

‘I have learned throughout my life as a composer chiefly through my mistakes and pursuits of false assumptions, not by my exposure to founts of wisdom and knowledge.’

Igor Stravinsky

‘In all science, error precedes the truth, and it is better it should go first than last.’

Hugh Walpole

‘If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.’

Thomas J. Watson, Snr

Success is on the far side of failure.’

Thomas J. Watson, Snr

‘Misfortunes leave wounds which bleed drop by drop even in sleep; thus little by little they train man by force and dispose him to wisdom in spite of himself. Man must learn to think of himself as a limited and dependent being; and only suffering teaches him this.’

Simone Weil

Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.’

Oscar Wilde

‘Trust your own instinct. Your mistakes might as well be your own, instead of someone else's.’

Billy Wilder

Failure is not a crime. Failure to learn from failure is.’

Walter Wriston

‘Companies fail when they continue doing for too long that which made them successful in the past.’

John Young

Failure is just another part of the culture of innovation. Accept it and become stronger.’

Albert Yu

Bonus: Famous failures

  • Beethoven’s music teacher once told him that as a composer, he was hopeless.
  • Winston Churchill failed the 6th grade.
  • John Creasy, the English novelist who wrote 564 books, was rejected 753 times before he became established.
  • Charles Darwin’s father told him he would amount to nothing and would be a disgrace to himself and his family.
  • Walt Disney was fired by the editor of a newspaper because he, Disney, had "no good ideas".
  • When Thomas Edison was a boy his teacher told him he was too stupid to learn anything.
  • Einstein was four-years-old before he spoke. He spoke haltingly until nine years of age. He was advised to drop out of High School. And his teachers told him he would never amount to much.
  • Henry Ford’s first two automobile businesses failed.
  • Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard’s early failed products included a lettuce-picking machine and an electric weight-loss machine.
  • Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.
  • Ray Krok failed as a real estate salesperson before discovering the McDonald’s idea.
  • R.H. Macy failed 7 times before his store in New York caught on.
  • Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka sold only 100 of an automatic rice cooker which burned the rice. Later, they built a cheap tape recorder for Japanese schools. This was the foundation of Sony Corp.
  • Isaac Newton failed at running the family farm and did poorly in school.
  • Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times (but he also hit 714 home runs).
  • Steven Spielberg dropped out of high school in his sophomore year. He was persuaded to come back and placed in a learning disabled class. He lasted a month.
  • The artist Whistler failed chemistry, failed at West Point and failed at engineering before turning his hand to art.
  • F. W. Woolworth got a job in a dry good store when he was 21, but his employer would not let him wait on customers because he "didn’t have enough sense."
  • The great baseball pitcher Cy Young lost almost as many games as he won.



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