The big idea: why we need to learn to fail better

From tedious blind dates to dud clinical trials, the right kind of failure always helps

You’ve probably heard the cheerful quotes: Winston Churchill, with his “success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm”, or CS Lewis, who wrote “failures are finger posts on the road to achievement”. What about Billie Jean King, who enthused “losing a tennis match isn’t failure, it’s research”? Maybe you find yourself thinking, “Sure. Easy to say when you’re famous and successful.”

For most people, failure is pretty simple: it’s bad, even shameful. Life is going well if you’re not experiencing failures, and we think that avoiding failure is obviously the right goal. We worry about what it says about us when we get something wrong (we’re not good enough!). The social stigma of failure exacerbates that spontaneous reaction.

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