Embracing Failure as a Stepping Stone to Success

published on 29 September 2023

Failure is inevitable in business. No matter how hard you work, how smart you are, or how lucky you get, you will encounter setbacks, challenges, and mistakes along the way. But failure is not something to be feared or avoided. It is something to be embraced and learned from.

Failure can be a powerful catalyst for growth, innovation, and resilience. In this article, we will explore how failure can help you achieve sustainable business growth and effective management, and share some inspiring stories of successful entrepreneurs who overcame failure.

The journey of building and growing a business is like a rollercoaster ride - thrilling, unpredictable, and filled with twists and turns. For small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and accounting and finance firms, this journey comes with its unique challenges. However, one thing is universal: failure plays a pivotal role in shaping success.

The Rollercoaster Ride of Business Evolution

Imagine your business journey as a thrilling rollercoaster. It has its exhilarating highs, heart-racing lows, and hairpin turns. What makes this ride worthwhile is the knowledge that every twist and turn teaches you something new.

The Early Days: Finding Your Footing

In the initial stages, every business is like a toddler taking its first steps. It's wobbly, uncertain, and prone to falling down. Take Airbnb, for instance, which started by renting out air mattresses in their living room. It might sound unconventional, but this early stumble was the beginning of a remarkable journey. Airbnb adapted, learned, and eventually evolved into a global giant in the travel industry.

The founders of Airbnb, Brian Chesky, Nathan Blecharczyk, and Joe Gebbia, began their journey by renting out their own apartment to make ends meet. This scrappy approach taught them invaluable lessons about user experience and the critical role of trust in their platform. It's a story of persistence and learning from early failures that profoundly influenced their eventual success.

The Middle Ground: Navigating Challenges

As your business matures, it's akin to the teenage years. You're learning the ropes, experimenting, and sometimes making questionable decisions, much like IBM did in the 1990s. They faced a near-collapse but emerged stronger through strategic changes and bold decisions. The teenage phase is all about testing boundaries and discovering your true strengths.

IBM's transformation under the leadership of Lou Gerstner is a testament to the power of embracing failure. They shifted from a product-centric focus to a customer-centric approach, a move that revitalized the company. Gerstner's willingness to confront the failures of the past and pivot towards a new future paved the way for IBM's resurgence.

Striving for Maturity: Adapting to the Real World

As your business matures, like Square, you may not find success right away. Square struggled initially but kept refining their approach. Today, they stand as leaders in the payment processing industry. Adulthood signifies taking calculated risks, learning from failures, and maintaining a focus on long-term sustainability.

Square's journey was marked by iterative development and a commitment to understanding their customers' needs. They listened to feedback, adjusted their product, and built trust in the market. Failure wasn't the end; it was a series of stepping stones towards their current success.

Embracing the Lessons in Failure

So, how should you perceive these ups and downs? The answer lies in embracing failure as a wise teacher, not as a harsh judge.

Failure Fuels Learning

Failure isn't a dead end; it's a fresh beginning. When your business stumbles, treat it as an opportunity to learn. Each misstep is like a valuable nugget of wisdom that you collect along the way.

Consider failure as your business's professor, providing you with feedback and insights that can't be acquired any other way. Every failure teaches you what doesn't work, guiding you towards what does.

Resilience is Your Armor

Failure tests your resilience. The ability to bounce back from setbacks, like a true warrior, sets successful businesses apart from the rest. Lead by example, and your team will follow suit.

Resilience is your business's superpower. It's the force that keeps you moving forward, no matter how tough the journey gets. The most successful businesses have leaders who exemplify this trait.

Risk is the Catalyst

Without risk, there's no innovation. Don't let the fear of failure hold you back. Embrace calculated risks, as they can lead to the most significant breakthroughs.

Think of risk as the fuel that propels your business forward. It's the courage to try new things, explore uncharted territories, and ultimately discover your business's full potential.

Practical Steps for Embracing Failure

To master the art of using failure as a stepping stone, follow these practical steps:

Encourage Experimentation

Create an atmosphere where your team feels comfortable experimenting. Airbnb didn't start as the global lodging giant we know today, but they kept experimenting until they found the right formula.

Encourage experimentation by setting aside time for brainstorming and innovation. Make it clear that it's okay to take risks and that failure is part of the process.

Feedback as a Compass

After a failure, gather feedback. It's like having a map to navigate uncharted waters. Use this feedback to steer your ship in the right direction.

Feedback is your business's GPS. It helps you course-correct, avoid potential pitfalls, and stay on the path to success.

Celebrate Progress

Don't just celebrate success; celebrate the progress made after a failure. It's these small wins that keep the morale high and the motivation intact.

Progress is the fuel that keeps your team going. By celebrating incremental achievements, you create a culture of resilience and continuous improvement.

Invest in Growth

Provide your team with the tools and training they need to excel. Sometimes, learning from others' experiences can save you from making costly mistakes.

Investing in growth is like planting seeds. With nurturing and care, these seeds will grow into strong, resilient trees that provide shade and sustenance for your business.

Set Realistic Expectations

Accept that not every venture will succeed. The road to success is lined with failures. Acknowledge them, learn from them, and keep moving forward.

Setting realistic expectations is like having a compass on your journey. It helps you stay grounded, navigate through challenges, and reach your destination.


In the world of SMBs and accounting and finance firms, the journey to success isn't a straightforward path. It's a rollercoaster ride with ups, downs, and loop-de-loops. However, by understanding how companies evolve over time and embracing failure as an integral part of the journey, you can transform setbacks into stepping stones.

Remember, failure isn't a dead end; it's a detour to growth. Your business will stumble, but it will also rise stronger each time. It's the willingness to adapt, the courage to take risks, and the wisdom to learn from failures that will define your success. So, fasten your seatbelt, enjoy the ride, and use every failure as a launching pad for your journey to success in the dynamic world of business.

    🔗 Kevin Mitchell | LinkedIn
    🔗 Kevin Mitchell | LinkedIn

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