What’s your biggest fear? For many, the first things that come to mind are spiders or clowns. However, it might surprise you that 31 percent of people are afraid of failure while only 30 percent are afraid of spiders.

In fact, this intense fear of failure is so common it has a name, atychiphobia. If you never try, you’ll never fail, but you also won’t succeed. Some of the biggest business lessons learned in life come from failure. Keep reading for lessons learned examples that will show that you can, in fact, fail forward. 

The Lessons Failure Can Teach You

There’s no exact science to learning from failure. However, scientists have posited that for failure to be effective, you must fail at least 15 percent of the time. Why this number? They claim you’ll be discouraged and give up if you fail too often. However, if you don’t fail enough, the challenge is too easy, and you don’t have the opportunity to learn.

Their logic makes sense. Failure can teach many lessons if you’re willing to take the time to learn them. So before we dive into some examples of when businesses failed forward, let’s talk about the business lessons you, the small business owner, can learn from failure.

Humility

humility - business lessons learned

Have you heard of the statistic that 90 percent of startups fail? Of that 90 percent, 10 percent failed within their first year. No one builds a business with the expectation that it will fail. Even if you’ve heard that daunting statistic, it’s easy to believe or convince yourself that it won’t happen to you; you’re invincible, right?

This feeling of invincibility can be attributed to the optimism bias. This is a belief that nothing negative will happen to you because you’re luckier than most. This bias affects 80 percent of people and can help you live a longer and happier life. However, it can also hurt you as well. For example, believing you’re luckier, more intelligent, or better than others can lead to negative consequences.

Another cognitive bias that can impact you is the Dunning-Kruger effect. With this, you believe you know more than you actually do. For example, the statement, “they know just enough to be dangerous,” is based on this cognitive bias. The cognitive biases that lead to you overestimating your abilities can also lead to a lack of humility. A lack of humility impacts your relationships with your employees, clients, and self. It can also stop you from reaching out for help and asking questions.

One of the most significant lessons you can learn from failure when running a business is humility. Humility can help counteract the overconfidence that can lead to failure. As a result, you’ll interact with people differently and be willing to reach out and ask for help when needed.

Start Small

start small - business lessons learned

You probably learned to avoid blame as much as possible as a child. After all, if something were your fault, that typically meant you would receive some consequence. The business world can, at times, be no different. It’s natural to look for someone to blame. However, while it might take a few times, you eventually learn that playing the blame game only hurts you. How? There are a couple of ways. 

Focus On What Failure Can Teach You

First, when you’re focused on finding someone to blame, you don’t focus on what failure can teach you. This means you could make the same mistake and miss valuable lessons that could help you grow your business. 

For example, say that you lost a big client for a cleaning business. It would be easy to look for someone to blame. However, if instead of focusing on who to blame, you focus on how to change it in the future, you can build better processes. 

You can avoid past mistakes that led to failure in the first place. But this only works if you take the time to evaluate the situation instead of pointing fingers. Ultimately, you must ensure you don’t repeat the past.

Focus On Building A Company Where Employees Are Not Afraid To Speak Up

Second, when you focus on finding someone to blame, you build a company where your employees are afraid to speak up.

There’s a term floating around in the employment industry, “psychological safety.” Psychological safety in the workplace means that you feel free to speak up and be fully yourself because you won’t be shamed or punished for doing so.

There are many benefits to a psychologically safe workplace. However, some of the biggest benefits are that it fosters creativity and employee engagement. Pointing the finger and blaming someone builds a workplace that isn’t psychologically safe. 

For example, imagine you’re building a real estate office. One of your employees suggests a new way to market houses that takes time and money. Unfortunately, the idea fails. Because of that, you blame the employee that suggested it, and they’re sanctioned. This makes that employee less likely to contribute ideas or other feedback in the future. It will also discourage other voices on your team because what if it doesn’t work?

The Blame Game Only Hurts You

the blame game - business lessons learned

You probably learned to avoid blame as much as possible as a child. After all, if something were your fault, that typically meant you would receive some consequence. The business world can, at times, be no different. It’s natural to look for someone to blame. However, while it might take a few times, you eventually learn that playing the blame game only hurts you. How? There are a couple of ways. 

Focus On What Failure Can Teach You

First, when you’re focused on finding someone to blame, you don’t focus on what failure can teach you. This means you could make the same mistake and miss valuable lessons that could help you grow your business. 

For example, say that you lost a big client for a cleaning business. It would be easy to look for someone to blame. However, if instead of focusing on who to blame, you focus on how to change it in the future, you can build better processes. 

You can avoid past mistakes that led to failure in the first place. But this only works if you take the time to evaluate the situation instead of pointing fingers. Ultimately, you must ensure you don’t repeat the past.

Focus On Building A Company Where Employees Are Not Afraid To Speak Up

Second, when you focus on finding someone to blame, you build a company where your employees are afraid to speak up.

There’s a term floating around in the employment industry, “psychological safety.” Psychological safety in the workplace means that you feel free to speak up and be fully yourself because you won’t be shamed or punished for doing so.

There are many benefits to a psychologically safe workplace. However, some of the biggest benefits are that it fosters creativity and employee engagement. Pointing the finger and blaming someone builds a workplace that isn’t psychologically safe. 

For example, imagine you’re building a real estate office. One of your employees suggests a new way to market houses that takes time and money. Unfortunately, the idea fails. Because of that, you blame the employee that suggested it, and they’re sanctioned. This makes that employee less likely to contribute ideas or other feedback in the future. It will also discourage other voices on your team because what if it doesn’t work?

Be Flexible

flexibility - business lessons learned

When you have an idea and a plan, how flexible are you? It’s not always a good idea to “go with the flow.” However, sometimes there’s a need to be flexible. When you’re running a business that fulfills the needs of others, you need to recognize that sometimes your “perfect solution” might not work for them. If you’re too rigid, you’ll lose that person as a customer. 

Failure can teach you that it’s important to be flexible. For example, maybe you have a great idea that will work for most people, but overall it’s not what your customers want. 

It’s one thing to head into a project with an idea. It’s another thing to be so inflexible that you don’t meet your customer’s needs.

When you maintain that rigid stance and fail, if you take the time, you can learn the value of planning but allow for flexibility. Learning to be flexible will allow you to learn to “roll with the punches.” That means you’ll be two steps ahead the next time a client requests that flexibility.

How to Turn Negative Feedback Into Improvement

turn negative feedback into improvement

We all love positive feedback. It’s great when customers are singing your praises, which means that you’re excellent at what you do.

However, just like failure, negative feedback can help you grow. Unfortunately, it’s easy to brush off negative feedback and claim it was just a difficult client. And unfortunately, it’s also easy to internalize that feedback and allow it to discourage you. 

What’s not easy is taking that feedback and turning it into a growth opportunity. Negative feedback gives you the opportunity to do a few things. 

Make It Right

First, it allows you to “make it right.”

Customer experience is important, especially as Millennials have more cash flow and are gaining spending power. In addition, millennials are willing to pay more for customer experience; how you respond when your clients aren’t happy is part of that experience. 

When you make it right, that creates a better customer experience and customer journey.

Negative feedback allows you to identify pain points with your service. If you can identify those pain points, you can work to smooth the kinks. Taking the time to turn negative feedback into constructive growth only helps you continue to improve and meet your customers’ needs.

You Can't Succeed With Only One Foot In

one foot in - business lessons learned

Maybe you’re not 100 percent confident when you’re starting your business. You’ve heard that 90 percent of startups fail, and you’re worried you’ll be one of those. But here’s the kicker, to some degree, not being 100 percent confident is a good thing. It means you’re more likely to think your plans through and ask for help when needed. But it also means you’re probably not fully investing in your dream. 

That’s where the problem comes in.

First, you need the humility that allows you to reach out for help. You need the ability to plan and think through possible pitfalls. However, you also need the confidence to jump in with both feet. To succeed, you need to commit. You also need to be passionate. You learn your biggest lesson the hard way when you fail because you didn’t fully commit. But you do learn it. 

Networking is Key

networking - business lessons learned

If you have failed because you couldn’t access the right human resources, you understand this lesson learned better than most. Building a professional network and strong relationships as a small business owner or individual is imperative. It gives you access to the right resources, people, and a wider audience. These people can help you find the right team and solutions for problems you might encounter or even new customers. 

If you don’t take the time to build this network, you might find yourself floundering with no solution when problems arise. Failure because you didn’t have access to the right human resources can be frustrating. However, it’s a simple problem to fix. Many real and digital opportunities help you build connections and future solutions. 

How to Say "No"

how to say no - business lessons learned

Saying no isn’t easy for everyone — It might even be the most important lesson you learn. The word might consist of two letters, but for many, using that word can lead to feelings of guilt — Especially for small business owners in the service industry. 

You want to be able to say yes and do everything. However, as discussed earlier, you can’t always do everything. You also can’t always be everything to everyone. Always try to look at the big picture and make the right decision about where to spend your valuable time.

When you refuse to say no, you’ll learn that lesson quickly. Saying yes to everything and everyone can lead to failure quickly. This lesson is one of the quickest ways to learn the importance of the word “no” and how to say it.

The Importance of Owning Your Mistakes

own your mistakes - business lessons learned

It’s important not to play the blame game but also to own up to your mistakes. Trying to sweep your mistakes under the rug will show your customers that you’re unwilling to take ownership. People aren’t willing to work with services that won’t be held accountable. Owning up to your mistakes and taking steps to fix them will help your customers see that you’re a brand that can be trusted.

Attention Small Business Owners: Don't Give Up

dont give up

One of the biggest lessons failures can teach you is not to give up. When you fail, it’s easy to give up and move on. However, some of the most successful entrepreneurs today are successful because they didn’t give up

They kept pushing forward and trying through the tough times. They knew that sometimes they needed to course correct, all the while maintaining consistency with their efforts. Sometimes they felt overwhelmed, but they took the lessons they learned from their failure, returned stronger, and worked harder. 

Business Lessons Learned: Examples of Companies That Turned Failure Into Success

Whether you’re a small business or a big business, you can learn from the successes and failures of others. Many companies have taken the opportunity to turn their failure into successes. They show us the important lesson to keep pushing forward. The names that we mention today are some pretty well-known companies. However, the lessons learned here can get applied to companies of any size.

Jack In The Box

This well-known food chain is known for its burgers and extended hours. While it might not be the healthiest option, crowds flock here for the prices and yummy food. However, in 1993, things quickly turned sour for this company. First, there was an outbreak of E. coli from undercooked hamburgers. This led to the deaths of four children and over 700 people becoming ill. Sales dropped drastically during this time and continued to decline over the next two quarters. 

This huge failure for this food chain could have led to them closing their doors forever. However, this company knew the core values of customer experience and owning up to their mistakes. Not only did they offer to cover the medical expenses of the people affected, but they also completely overhauled their food prep procedures.

Converse

If you love your Converse shoes, you might be interested to know that this company has almost ceased to exist. After almost 100 years in existence, in 2001, they reported losses of over 5.4 million dollars and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. 

The power of networking saved this company from complete ruin. Nike, a former competitor, bought Converse for 305 million dollars in 2003. After the sale, Nike worked to network with artists, designers, and other brands to build the Converse line. This rebranding made Converse a household name again, and sales in 2003 totaled over 200 million dollars. Today Converse is still going and is well-known due to the nostalgia associated with the brand.

Starbucks

It might be surprising to see Starbucks on this list, but it’s true! In 2008 Starbucks saw a 42 percent slide in stock price. This was due to a few factors: competition from fast food restaurants, rising prices for food commodities, and over-expansion. But, once again, Starbucks is a company that focuses on networking, not doing too much at once, and improving from negative feedback to overcome their failure. 

They brought back their former CEO and focused on providing quality coffee to customers. They also reorganized their supply chain, closed 600 stores, and invested in ad campaigns. As a result, Starbucks continues to do well today because of its willingness to turn failure into growth opportunities.

Milton Hershey

If you’re a chocolate lover, you likely recognize this name. However, one of the biggest names in chocolate now, Milton Hershey’s business, did not begin successfully. In his early days, Hershey opened a candy shop in Philadelphia. However, he never profited and ended up needing to close the doors. Not easily swayed, Hershey opened a shop in New York a few years later. Unfortunately, this shop also ended up getting closed due to financial reasons.

Hershey wasn’t a quitter, though, and he took the lessons he learned in Philadelphia and New York and applied them once again to a new business. This time he decided to focus on doing one thing great; he began to sell only caramels. He built his business making excellent caramels and was eventually able to expand and sell that business for one million dollars in 1900. Five years later, he opened the Hershey Chocolate Factory, which still exists today.

J.K. Rowling

J.K Rowling is a well-known name today. However, before her books were published, she struggled through lean times with a series of personal setbacks that would make it difficult even to write the Harry Potter series. When she completed the books, various publishers rejected her time after time. She submitted her books to 12 major publishing firms and was told no by each.

She kept pushing forward, and it took the eight-year-old daughter of an editor at Bloomsbury Publishing reading her book to achieve success. This eight-year-old loved the book so much that the company decided to publish it. Today, Harry Potter is a well-known series that’s still popular. J.K Rowling has won numerous awards, and she’s one of the few writers worldwide to reach billionaire status. Rowling refused to accept failure and built an industry on a series of children’s books.

Airbnb

Airbnb is well-known today, but many people didn’t understand the concept when it started. Because of this, they struggled to find people who were willing to invest in the concept. Multiple prominent investors turned them down in Silicon Valley. However, they used their resources and found ways to get funded and start growing. This attitude of not giving up and being willing to use current network connections allowed them to get their footing. 

Eventually, they could find investors that really helped fuel their growth. As a result, Airbnb has been a game changer in today’s culture. Now you’ll find apps that allow you to rent other people’s cars, couch surf, and more. They took the time to fully commit and invest in their idea to be the name they are today.

Hire a Business Coach and Build Your Business

hire a business coach

Failure is tough. However, you’ll grow if you take the opportunity to learn from your failures. These examples of lessons learned show us that. These companies and entrepreneurs started from nothing and built empires because they failed forward. Are you looking to grow your business? What’s your biggest challenge?

Working with a business coach can have a huge impact and help you as you explore your business opportunities. So check out our MINDstretch coaching programs today, and let us help fuel your growth.

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