Failure is such a dirty word these days. How many people absolutely succeed in everything they do, one-hundred percent of the time? The answer is easy.


Let’s be blunt. Failure exists every day. There is going to be a mistake. A goof up. Something you didn’t plan for or engineer into the scheme. Maybe it is a cheap mistake. Maybe it is incredibly expensive. It could take time to correct. You might have to start over. You might even realize you are going in the wrong direction. It’s the “oh, crap” moment.

And all of this could be perfectly okay if you have the right mindset.

I stumbled onto a great quote regarding this viewpoint the other day from Dorie Clark, “If it doesn’t work, it isn’t a failure. It’s data”

This means take that gigantic mess and learn from it. Improve your situation. Fix your technique. Ramp up your learning and solve the problem. Roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty.

This is how we grow as people. This is how companies solve complex problems. Trying and failing. Then trying again.

When you were a kid you didn’t just hop on a bicycle and ride off into the sunset. You probably pedaled down the sidewalk and crashed into a shrub or a tree with one of your parents looking on nervously. I know I did.

This works the same way when you are learning a new technique in this industry too. Whether you are learning to heat press metallic foil onto a t-shirt, sew an appliqué design so it stays straight, or print your first CMYK job, the chances of you not getting a face full of bark are pretty slim.

But just like riding that bike, you’ll hop back on and try again. Until one day that incredibly complex technique is second nature. Then you are off zooming around the neighborhood with the wind in your hair.

Just one more thing though about failure.

Make sure your team knows that when learning something new, that there will be mistakes and that it won’t be so bad. Do you remember the first time you entered an order? Bought several hundred shirts from a distributor? Separated a Photoshop file? Tried to change out the thread on a machine? Shipped an order internationally and had to fill out all that paperwork?

That cold nervous sweat, accompanied by the “I sure hope this is right” statement as you hit the enter key is a sign that you care. The staff that you hire feels this too when training. Probably more so.

Ensure that they have room to feel their way around learning as they master the new. Give them the training and support.  Explain your expectations. And then guide them down the sidewalk on their bike and hope they don’t hit something as they zoom off. But if they do, it’s okay.

Standing over them like a lion tamer with a whip and a chair, hoping they do something wrong so you can blast them isn’t leadership. You aren’t doing anyone any favors by using bullying techniques with your employees. Is this the style of management in your company? If so, ask yourself why is this needed? Personally, I can’t think of a single good reason.

Also, when someone makes a mistake was it because they weren’t trained properly? Are using faulty equipment? Had bad information? Some other circumstance? Are you really investigating to see what happened? Where are you drawing the line with failure in your tasks?

How much slack are you giving these newbies at that task?

You were that kid on a bike once. Remember? Everything you know you had to learn at one point. The stuff you are learning tomorrow will be loaded with potential mistakes too.

Use mistakes as learning tools. Embrace them. Either we’re learning and getting better or we’re not.  But nobody is mistake free.

Remember, it’s data for improvement. Be brave.

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein

“Your best teacher is your last mistake.” – Ralph Nader

“The greatest mistake we make is living in constant fear that we will make one.” – John C. Maxwell