What drives success? There are multiple correct answers to this question, but if you asked Jeff Stibel, CEO of Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp. and New York Times Best-Selling Author of Breakpoint, the most correct answer would be failure. Stibel welcomes failure, especially as the result of taking a risk, and even highlights failure as a central part of his company’s culture. The failure wall at D&B Credibility is a permanent and well-received fixture which communicates to employees that if they’re aren’t failing, they aren’t taking big enough risks. “Failing Forward” is just as big a part of company culture as working hard and playing hard, and now those outside of D&B Credibility can experience Stibel’s appreciation of failure, too. Through a series of LinkedIn posts, Stibel is sharing his favorite stories of successful people who learned from their failures and used their experiences to become icons. From Warren Buffett to J.K Rowling and even President Barack Obama, “the greatest people in history have been failures.” Stibel suggests that heroes like these be held to the same standards of ancient Greek Gods, “awesome but not infallible,” and he aims to remind us that while we look to these heroes for inspiration, we need to take their failures into account as well as their successes. While we may be trained to view failure as a setback, Stibel reassures us that “if you’re making mistakes and learning from them, you’re actually on the path to success.”
As Founder and CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos is one of the richest men in the world. That wasn’t always the case, though. In fact, Bezos made some mistakes in his career that costs hundreds of millions of dollars. Luckily, Bezos learned from those mistakes and more than made back that money.
Winfrey was criticized for becoming personally involved with the people she reported on as a journalist, but that didn’t stop her from caring about people and getting involved. Instead of trying to fit the hard news mold, she learned from her failures as a reporter and became one of the most personally involved talk show hosts ever, and of course, a household name.
Barack Obama did something different than what everyone else was doing and it allowed him to do something that no other man had ever been able to do: be elected as the First African-American President of the United States of America. It’s hard to imagine someone so accomplished being anything but successful, but President Obama was in fact a failure at many different moments in his political career. Without the failures of his issues-based and premature campaigns, he would have never learned to run a totally different race and ultimately win the presidency.
We often associate those who break the law with dead-end paths, assuming they’ll never amount to anything honorable or good, but we shouldn’t. Richard Branson spent a night in jail after breaking the law in an effort to become more successful, but he used his failure to soar from rock bottom to 37,000 feet above Earth, proving that failure is often the biggest motivator of success.
Most rappers rhyme about their rags to riches stories, though few are as compelling as Jay-Z’s. His path from the Brooklyn projects to the Hollywood Hills wasn’t easy, fast or void of failure, and yet, he made it. His story is a true example of the American Dream and the idea that hard work (and failure) can be all you need to succeed.
“The Boy Who Lived” almost, in fact, did not. J.K. Rowling was down to her last string when she began writing the world famous Harry Potter series that would sky-rocket her to fame and wealth, and she was turned down by many a publisher before one agreed to print “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” While she felt like the ultimate failure, writing a book no one believed in as she struggled to pay her bills, she was actually on her way to becoming the ultimate success.
They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, but in Warren Buffett’s case, his trash was also his treasure. At first, Berkshire Hathaway had about as many good prospects as a “soggy cigar butt,” but Buffett learned from his failures and built the now incredibly successful Berkshire Hathaway from that very same soggy cigar butt. He didn’t change the name, simply the direction, and he couldn’t have done it without failing first.