Business failure is an opportunity to learn a valuable lesson, applicable to the business world as anywhere else. 

While making mistakes can demoralize you and cost you money or progress in the short term, keep things in perspective and try to make the most of the situations you’re given. 

Apply the following lessons in your career to make the most of your mistakes and give yourself as much of a leg up as you can.

Progress is Rarely a Straight Line

We tend to think of biological evolution as a straightforward path where species improve themselves, but the real story of evolution is one of failure. 

Countless failed species litter the history that led to human ascendancy.

This principle isn’t reserved for natural evolution only. 

We may regard Henry Ford today as an innovator who revolutionized the world of manufacturing, but it took him a lot of stumbles to reach where his company is today. 

Ford spent years throwing out prototypes before coming upon the Model T design, and even after its proof of concept was in place, he lost the support of his financial backers. 

He needed to find bankers who would allow him limitless creative control to make his vision a reality, but he wouldn’t succeed financially if he hadn’t had years of failed experiences in the business sector. 

Even today, the assembly line is changing as new innovators test out new theories, learning what works better and when to go back to the drawing board.

Perfect is the Enemy of Good

One of the biggest dangers in software development – especially among newer companies – is what’s known as feature creep. It’s what happens when your budget outstrips your financial or time limitations. 

Many developers start a new project with a bold vision for the future, and successful apps end up including only a fraction of the suggestions. And the irony is, all the suggestions could be great ideas.

One of the critical lessons that Henry Ford learned was that he couldn’t make a car for everyone. Eventually, he had to choose where to focus on to get his cars out of the door and satisfy his customers. 

Not being afraid to leave components of a product or service on the shelf can be critical to finding success. Getting to understand your limitations and scope is ultimately an exercise in adjusting to past failures.

There’s a Value in Exposing Your Own Failures

Sticking with the example of software design, it’s impossible to guess exactly what your customers want. 

Sometimes features will seem great on paper and will work in practice but won’t catch on with customers. 

Testing features on a large enough group will reveal weaknesses that smaller sample sizes can’t.

Good business people don’t just learn directly from failures. They actively pursue potential errors. 

Your goal is to provide your customers what they want; not to bring your specific vision to life.  

Testing out a new product or service while listening to your customers and adjusting it can transform a potentially disastrous launch into a successful one.

Failure Can Teach You When to Cut Your Losses

The sunk cost fallacy can be a dangerous road to walk for everyone.

If you invest years in product research and development, the last thing you want to do is double down on that investment. 

Doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results is insanity.

It’s great to be passionate about what you do, but don’t let your passion blind you to the failures of your business model. 

If you’re willing to evaluate your situation and kill your darlings when necessary, you’ll prevent the anxiety of cutting losses.

You will also gain better instincts for when ideas need a little more massaging to succeed or when it’s time to pivot.

Understanding What You Can Control, and What You Can’t is Beneficial

Sometimes an idea fails when you mismanage resources and fail to recognize what your customers are looking for, or because you come with the idea the market isn’t ready for. 

It’s overly simplistic to assume there are problems you can control and problems that you can’t. Instead, failure teaches you to look at things more as a spectrum

The black and white notion that perseverance can overcome any issue is naïve and causes many professionals to become blind to business reality.

The Most Important Lesson: Get Up and Keep Trying

When you stumble and fall, think about what you could have done differently. Sometimes one right decision minimizes damage, and sometimes it resolves the entire problem

Your job isn’t to do everything perfectly every time. It’s about looking at the challenges facing you more critically, becoming better at predicting the unexpected difficulties, and mitigating roadblocks.

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Jennifer McKenzie

Jen McKenzie is an independent business consultant from New York. She writes extensively on business, education and human resource topics. When Jennifer is not at her desk working, you can usually find her hiking or taking a road trip with her two dogs.

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