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5 Spectacular Examples of Turning Failure Into Success

16/01/2015 3:16 AM IST | Updated 17/03/2015 3:29 PM IST

Examining the positive aspects of failure has become a growing trend in today's business world, and a practice increasingly celebrated by many of today's leading industry experts. Granted, this concept often feels like a paradox, as watching groups of highly accomplished and brilliant minds striving toward success by focusing on failure hardly seems the most intuitive of choices. However, as research has shown, there are incredible lessons to be learned by examining why any given individual or business' efforts have gone awry, and what we can learn from these mistakes. (A concept explored further in new book Make Change Work for You: 10 Ways to Future-Proof Yourself, Fearlessly Innovate and Succeed Despite Uncertainty.) In the spirit of encouraging you to reexamine some of your own failures (all potential learning experiences), and the potential insights that they can provide that may pave a pathway to future success, here are five examples of some of history's most incredible stories of failure and redemption.

J.K. Rowling

At one point, Rowling was an unemployed and depressed single mother who never thought she would make it anywhere. She spent countless nights in coffee shops scribbling out her idea for a novel about wizard's, and describes herself then as "the biggest failure she knew." (Quite a bold statement from someone so wildly successful today.) But ultimately it was this failure, and the way in which she embraced it, that formed the foundation of her success.

She emphasized this in a commencement address she gave at Harvard University in 2008: "Failure meant a stripping away of the essential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and I began to direct all my energies to finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive... and so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life."

Steve Jobs

In 1985, after Apple discontinued its poorly­selling Lisa computer and faced plummeting Macintosh sales, Jobs was ousted from the company he started from his own garage. The decision came from the board of directors and CEO of Apple, John Sculley, whom Jobs himself had selected for the position in 1983 - adding insult to injury.

During Jobs' absence from Apple, Macintosh sales continued to struggle as competitive products from Microsoft began crowding the personal computing space. "Microsoft simply ripped off what other people did," Jobs alleged. However, he added, "Apple deserved it. After I left, it didn't invent anything new. The Mac hardly improved. It was a sitting duck for Microsoft."

By 1997 though, Jobs was back at Apple, and picking up the mess. The company was months away from bankruptcy. Jobs turned the company's focus to innovating great products. By 2012, after inventing the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad, Apple became the most valuable company on the planet.

Michael Jordan

The legendary basketball star was given second shrift by his high school basketball team because the coach told him he wasn't tall enough to play. It was a moment deeply imprinted on Michael's life. He stared at the alphabetically arranged list of names that made the team, feeling sure his coach had mistakenly left his name out. He was so disappointed and ashamed, he wept when he got home that day. Fortunately, his mother came to his side and gave him some important advice. "She said that the best thing I could do is to prove to the coach that he had made a mistake," recalled Michael, who added, "leaving my disappointment behind, I started to improve my performance." As we know, he would quickly go on to become the most recognizable athlete in history because he refused to give up and treated his failure as an opportunity and a challenge.

Abraham Lincoln

Born into poverty, Lincoln had to face defeat throughout his life. He lost eight elections, failed in two businesses, and suffered a nervous breakdown which left him bedridden for six months. He could have quit many times, but he didn't, and instead became one of the greatest American presidents.

A list of Lincoln's failures:

  • 1832 - Lost Job, defeated for state legislature
  • 1833 - Business he started fails
  • 1835 - Personal love (Ann Rutledge) dies
  • 1836 - Suffers from nervous breakdown
  • 1838 - Defeated after running for Illinois House Speaker
  • 1843 - Defeated in nomination for Congress
  • 1848 - Lost renomination for Congress
  • 1854 - Defeated in his run for Senate, 1854
  • 1856 - Defeated in his nomination for vice president, 1856
  • 1858 - Defeated in run for Senate

Finally, in 1860 Lincoln was elected President. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Sir Richard Branson

Most know Richard Branson as the iconic and daring entrepreneur and self­made billionaire who challenged established businesses by providing better services and products to consumers. It wasn't always this way.

Branson dealt with dyslexia as a child and performed poorly in school. In fact, on his last day his headmaster told him he would either end up in prison or become a millionaire. He was almost right. But Branson wasn't just successful because of his drive to prove everyone wrong. He also refused to let failure keep him from getting back up and moving forward. Here's a list of some of his failed ventures: Virgin Cola, Virgin Clothes, Virgin Money, Virgin Vie, Virgin Vision, Virgin Vodka, Virgin Wine, Virgin Jeans, Virgin Brides, Virgin Cosmetics and Virgin Cars.

The key lesson here for entrepreneurs, or anyone facing challenges in their life, is to be resilient, persistent, and constantly looking to learn from mistakes. These are the traits that have made Sir Richard Branson and the other examples highlighted here successful as entrepreneurs, presidents, and sports stars throughout the world.

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