Being a CEO isn’t an easy job; as the highest ranking executive in a company, they have to wear many hats at once. A CEO may spend their day handling employee concerns, managing the executive team, developing company strategy, and making major corporate decisions. With so much responsibility, it’s little wonder that some of them may worry about failure — there’s a lot riding on their shoulders! The good news is everyone fails sometimes, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Some of the most successful CEOs have experienced failure and proven that there are lessons to learn from it.
1. Embrace Failure as an Innovation Tool
Striving for perfection prevents risk-taking, and often risks are needed to make a business stand out from the crowd. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has had a number of failures over the years (the Fire Phone, Amazon Destinations, and Amazon Auctions) and has joked that failure feels like “a root canal without anesthesia.” Despite this, he’s learned to embrace failure as a tool to create successful endeavors. “I’ve made billions of dollars of failures at Amazon,” he’s said. “If you decide you’re going to do only the things you know are going to work, you’re going to leave a lot of opportunity on the table.” Some of Bezos’s experiments have become huge successes, such as Prime, Marketplace, and Amazon Web Services; Amazon Web Services alone brought in over $5.4 billion dollars in the first quarter of 2018.
2. Learning From Your Mistakes Can Be More Valuable Than Success
It’s not enough to embrace your failures; you have to be able to learn from them. Failure can teach you a lot about how to improve an idea or give you valuable hindsight. Bill Gates, principal founder of Microsoft and former CEO, has had many pitfalls over the years that he was able to learn from. From his ill-fated first company Traf-O-Data to his failure to recognize internet opportunities, Gates has been candid about some of the lessons he’s learned from failures. While discussing how Microsoft missed the boat when they failed to develop a search engine, he said, “success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” He’s also admitted that Microsoft made missteps in the mobile arena. As Gates has said, “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”
3. Don’t Give Up
Persistence can pay off. Elon Musk, entrepreneur and CEO of SpaceX, has had repeated failures over the years. One of those failures that turned to success is SpaceX. He founded SpaceX in 2002, with the purpose of less expensive transportation to space, and had nothing but a string of roadblocks. At the start of the company’s launch, they had trouble hiring anyone who had experience building rockets. Musk has said, “And the reason that I ended up being the chief engineer or chief designer, was not because I want to, it’s because I couldn’t hire anyone. Nobody good would join. So I ended up being that by default.” The first three launches failed, and the company almost went bankrupt. Having only enough money for one more launch, they tried again, to great success; not only did the rocket launch, the company received a $1.6 billion contract from NASA. “Persistence is very important. You should not give up unless you are forced to give up,” Musk stated. “When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.”