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Author's profile photo Jonathan Becher

Quotes about Failure

A few years ago I wrote a series of posts with quotes about Performance Management (Feb 2009, Sept 2009, May 2010). Last week the Global Language Monitor announced that ‘404’ and ‘fail’ are the two most popular words of 2013. Given the popularity of failure, I thought I would catalog a few of my favorite quotes about failing:


“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Thomas Edison, American inventor

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
Winston Churchill, British politician

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”
Salvador Dalí, Spanish painter

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
Maya Angelou, American author

“Go on failing. Go on. Only next time, try to fail better.”

Samuel Beckett, Irish novelist

“It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”
Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States

And one that I’ve been using in talks:

Failure is the new black.

What are your favorite quotes about failure?

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      Author's profile photo Andy Silvey
      Andy Silvey

      Failure is the new black

      Hi Jonathan,

      as ever, very nice thought provoking blog.

      I am tuned into everything you are saying and have been for many years.

      Regarding failure being the new black, some thoughts.

      I think in the past it has been very common for companies wanting to know who to blame when things go wrong. Even though on the surface companies might say, we have a no blame policy, in many companies in my career, people who have been the decision make for a disaster have seen negative consequences.

      There are people, who know, and understand, as did the forefathers (as you have shown above), that failure is part of the path to success, greatness, and delivering your best in any area you apply yourself to. And these people know, as you have shown above, you simply have to not fear failure and keep going and learn from past experiences on the path to realising your best.

      Back to the companies and mentalities, it has been common even in no-blame cultures that people do get blamed.

      Obviously, slowly, the word, the message, the secret, is starting to seep through, that fear of failure is a handicap, and will hold people back, and holding people back will hold companies back, because people are the companies.

      This is good.

      In our world there is always a herd mentality, there are those who lead and are first and those who follow, and failure becoming the new black is the example of the herd catching up and realising that failure is good (as long as it is learned from) and that not fearing failure is part of the path to realising one's greatest possibilities, and therefore, if companies want to realise their greatest possibilities then their people need to be given the freedom and support to realise their greatest possibilities without fear of failure, or the fear of the stigma of being seen to fail.

      Best regards and thanks for the blog,


      Author's profile photo Jonathan Becher
      Jonathan Becher
      Blog Post Author

      Hi Andy,

      Thank you for your thoughtful response. I like how you wove in the idea of leadership and following, as change management and the move to accepting failure.  I'd be curious about your opinion on a blog i wrote a few years ago: Is Following More Important the Leading?


      Author's profile photo Andy Silvey
      Andy Silvey

      Hi Jonathan,

      ok, you invited this....

      We might not realise it, but we are all leaders.

      Right down to the first rung of the ladder.

      We are all leading something, we are all the lead for something.

      If we work in a production plant and our role is to tighten the nuts which hold the wheels on the car, then we are the leader of that task.

      We have to complete that task as professionals and  having followed training and meet a certain quality criteria. We have the responsibility to report back on successes, failures, risks and progress and performance.

      We lead our task no matter  how small that task is.

      As we grow, if we are so motivated to grow in the management chain then our leadership responsibilities take other directions, including not only being responsible for tasks but also for people, management.

      What is leadership, what makes the leader ?

      If a person is the leader  of the task to tighten the wheels nuts on the car, what qualities differentiate a strong leader in that role and a passive leader in that role ?

      The strong leader in that role will not fear reporting upwards degradation of performance or quality and be able to explain why there has been a degradation and how to resolve it. 

      We might not realise it, but we are all followers.

      Everybody is a follower, believe it or not, everybody right up to the highest rung on the ladder in the largest corporation is a follower.

      Everybody is  dancing to somebody's tune.

      The CEO is dancing to the shareholders tune, the CEO isn't free to do as he pleases, he has a set of objectives given by the shareholders and responsibilities and kpi's to achieve.

      The CEO is  following the shareholders and major investors. 

      Regarding the video, I didn't watch it, only read your synopsis.

      From the description you have given:


      In case you didn’t watch the video, his key points are: 

           The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader. 

           The best way to create a movement is to courageously follow and show others      how to follow. 

           Everyone needs to see the followers, because new followers emulate followers –      not the leader. 

           It’s a compelling thought: The best way to lead might be to follow.


      Firstly, for me the principle represents a rare case of 'organic' growth, where one dancer dances and (leads), probably without even realising it, just because they are doing what they enjoy, and then slowly others get up and follow.

      What I mean by organic growth is, there is no external pressure on the other people to comply and join and follow coming from the leader or the collective.

      In a company there is an unwritten assumption that having accepted your role you will behave in a certain way to comply and be cohesive to the flow of the organisation.

      In a company when the one who you have to report to, does something, or gives an  instruction, unless you have a very good reason you have to comply and follow,  this is shall we say sponsored leadership and following compared to the dancing example which is organic. 

      Back to the analogy that everybody is a leader, in a strong team it is everybody's job to keep the team together, and to support the leader and encourage following of the leader.

      Look in the government, in the political parties in the UK there are Members of Parliament whose role it is in the political party, is to be a 'Whip', that is to whip the party's MP's into line and ensure in voting sessions they are voting with their party and not against and even to make sure they actually turn up to parliament to join the vote.

      There is even the 'Chief Whip', who is, the leader of the 'Whips' and again, he is a follower, he is following the party leader, and the party leader, well we all know who that person is following.   

      When I first read the name of your blog,

            'Is Following More Important Than Leading',

      the question mean't something else to me, and my immediate answer to that black and white question is,

            there are times to lead


            there are times to follow 

           this is along the lines of choosing your battles 

      knowing when to play which card, when to lead and when to follow is another of the many keys to success.

      The blog for me, focuses on the point that everybody is a leader and a follower. 

      But for me this is the question,     

           'Is Following More Important Than Leading'

      this is something different.

      In business, should a company be a leader or a follower in their market ?

      That is an altogether different question.

      As history has shown, it is not always the first to the post, which can be described as the leader, in an industry, who is the most successful.

      History has shown, the players who come along later, who can be considered the followers can overtake the leaders.

      The followers have the benefit of not having the co$t of being the leader and expensive  failures which can be the price of being the leader.

      The follower can learn from the leader's mistakes and when the opportunity arrises overtake. Look at the strategy of  the cyclists and long distant runners in the summer games. Look at Nokia ! 

      We could go on and on, this is a huge philosophical area.

      To wrap up,  we are all leaders and we are all followers

      how we lead and follow is another question

      how strong we are as leader is another question

      how do we qualify the term strong leader, is another question

      Is Following More Important Than Leading ?

           My answer, they are both equally important and the key is

           knowing when to do which

      Best regards,


      p.s. another example, in the financial markets, tracker funds, are they leaders or followers ?

      Author's profile photo Andy Silvey
      Andy Silvey

      When to lead and when to follow,

      an interesting perspective in this blog,

      How to play the waiting game


      Author's profile photo Andy Silvey
      Andy Silvey

      and there's more from

      Leadership flows from Followership