Is failure the recipe for success?

“Move fast and break things” is a term we often hear from Silicon Valley, out of the mouth of a particular billionaire who changed your life, Mark Zuckerberg. Many other prominent individuals voice a similar ethos when discussing their journeys, including the importance of risk and learning when attempting to accomplish magnificent, creative feats. A recent paper completed at Northwestern University found failure as “the essential prerequisite for success,”  based on an analysis of 776,721 grant applications submitted to the National Institutes of Health from 1985-2015. 

“Every winner begins a loser.”

The researchers also included various other datasets, including 46 years’ worth of venture capital startup investments, to create a mathematical model that could reliably predict success or failure. In the words of Dashun Wang, an associate professor of management and organizations at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, “every winner begins a loser.”

Life is designed for highs and lows.

What does this mean for mental health and well-being? Perhaps a reassuring nod that not every moment should feel happy, euphoric and successful—that life is an evolutionary process that keeps us learning and growing as a visionary, problem-solving species. Failure is unique to the individual; it can mean the collapse of a marriage, the loss of a job, the dissolution of a friendship or a dip back into negative, self-destructive habits. Through these experiences, we learn what works and what doesn’t to ensure the best quality of life. How can you foster a culture that recognizes failure as an essential stage in the process of personal development? 


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