Sometimes You’ve Got to Fail to Succeed!


I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. – Attributed to Thomas Edison with regard to creating the lightbulb

This quote makes me think about a situation I experienced while serving as a board member for a non-profit organization.  I had worked for weeks to prepare what I thought was an amazing agenda for an important two-day meeting.  Unfortunately when meeting time rolled around, a lot lot of things happened that resulted in my not presenting the “amazing” agenda in the way I had envisioned.  By the end of the first day, I saw the meeting as a complete failure.

By the second day of our meeting though I had embodied a new perspective, a learning perspective.  I had actually gained something valuable from that first day of our meeting: my own list of “10,000 ways that [didn’t] work” and this became very beneficial to me when creating future agendas for these meetings.

This is what happens in coaching.  When I begin work with a client I share there are no failures in coaching, only opportunities to learn, which is what Edison is expressing.

In coaching, the client designs action steps.  When we next meet, we follow up on those actions to figure out what happened – the individual may have successfully completed the action, or the individual may show up feeling that he or she “failed” at completing the action, or maybe something in between.  In coaching there is learning in each of these outcomes.  If the individual is successful, he or she has learned what may worked this time and what may work for them in the future.  If the individual shows up feeling he or she failed, there is even greater opportunity – first we know what doesn’t work, but then we work to figure out where the plan derailed and what got in the way of success. Sometimes the greatest learning of all happens when we go through these steps and we learn that “failing” isn’t really failing at all.

What have you learned from “failing”?  How has failure led to success for you?



2 Responses to “Sometimes You’ve Got to Fail to Succeed!”

  1. Ellen Delap October 23, 2013 8:35 pm #

    In failing we learn more! I am a true believer that all things great come from failure.

  2. Linda Samuels October 25, 2013 9:58 am #

    Oh, Andrea…let me count the ways that I just LOVE this post! It’s such a powerful message. And as you know, one of the things you taught me in coaching class was to adopt the perspective of having a “learning vs. performance agenda.” That so much speaks to the idea that we will get it wrong on the way to getting it right, but that’s not only expected, it’s valuable. Staying curious about why something worked or didn’t’ work IS how we learn and grow.

    Thank you for this fabulous reminder.

Leave a Reply