talked a lot about winning—but I’ve talked a lot about failing, too. Learning
how to fail productively—to “Fail Up”—is one of the greatest secrets to full-on
And in that vein, I was impressed with a recent article by business author Bernard Marr.
He pointed out that there is one single thing that all “radically successful”
people have in common: They have a ferocious drive and hunger for success that
makes them never give up.
There are many varieties of success. Jobs and
careers are one area, but success in family life, personal relationships,
community and church work, philanthropy and sports or treasured hobbies are
important success priorities as well.
One thing is certain: There is no clear and definitive path to success for
anyone. The most successful people in any endeavor will tell you many stories of
failure within their life journeys. Many (if not all) have experienced major
failures, multiple times. But they never gave up.
As I have said many times, the greatest secret to success is learning how to
“Fail Up.” It would even be fair to say that failure is the driver that makes
truly successful people even more hungry and determined to achieve their
In his article, Marr presented a list of nine famous successful people whose failures
helped to spur their success. I would like to share them with you, along with
some of my own thoughts on each:
1.Henry Ford stands tall as a pioneer of modern business, yet this founder of
the Ford Motor F +0.34% Company failed many
times on his route to success. His first business attempt at building a motor
car was shuttered after just a year and a half when stockholders lost confidence
in his ability to succeed. He gathered more cash and re-started his effort, but
a year later was forced out of his own company yet again. The entire motor
industry had lost faith in Henry Ford, but he was not deterred. He found another
investor to start the Ford Motor Company, and the rest is history.
2. Walt Disney DIS +1.18% – The creator of the
global Disney empire of film studios, theme parks, and consumer merchandise
travelled a long and winding road to success. Amazingly, Walt Disney was fired
from an early job at the Kansas City Star Newspaper because he was “not creative
enough.” In 1922 he launched a Kansas-based company called Laugh-O-Gram with a
mission to produce cartoons and short advertising films. One year later, in
1923, the business went broke. He didn’t give up, though. He moved from Kansas
to Hollywood to begin another venture, and The Walt Disney Company was born.
3. Richard Branson – A personal favorite of mine,
Richard Branson is a highly successful entrepreneur. In fact, in a prior
article, I named him one of the Top 10 Living Business Leaders Today. Branson’s
successful ventures include Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Music, and Virgin Active. At
age 16, however, Branson was a high school drop out with hopes of starting a
student magazine. It didn’t succeed. He went on to establish a mail-order record
business that did so well it led to the creation of the record shop he called
Virgin. Today we know him as one of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs, but on
his path to success he endured many more failures, including Virgin Cola, Virgin
Vodka, Virgin Clothes, Virgin Vie, and Virgin Cards. Thank heavens he never gave
4.Oprah Winfrey has just returned to the No. 1 position on the Forbes celebrity list after
two years in second place and a drop in income of $88 million since last year.
She is broadly acclaimed as the
queen of entertainment, and has enjoyed an amazing career as a talk show host,
media proprietor, actress, and producer. However, Oprah began her life in
poverty, and in her earlier career she endured numerous setbacks, such as
getting fired from her job as a reporter because she was ”unfit for television,”
and fired as the co-anchor of weekday news on WJZ-TV, which resulted in her
being demoted to morning TV. Clearly those organizations didn’t recognize the
incredible talent they were squandering.
5.J.K. Rowling – The iconic writer of the Harry
Potter series, which has resulted in the sale of more than 400 million books, is
also responsible for the most successful and lucrative book-based film series in
history. However, early in her career as an author, Rowling received endless
rejections from publishers. Even her famous Harry Potter manuscript was rejected
outright for reasons, such as, ”It is far too long for a children’s book” or,
”Children books never make any money.” Her story is even more inspiring when you
realize that she was a divorced single mother who was living on welfare when her
career as a writer began.
6. Bill Gates –The famous co-founder and chairman of Microsoft dropped out of
Harvard to set up a business called Traf-O-Data. The partnership between Bill
Gates, Paul Allen, and Paul Gilbert was based on a good idea to read data from
roadway traffic counters and create automated reports on traffic flows. But the
business model was flawed and the company had few customers and resulted in
losses from 1974 to 1980 before it was closed. But Bill and his partner Paul
Allen put the lessons they’d learned to good use when they created
7. Milton Hershey failed in his first two attempts to set up a confectionary
business. But is there any of us who doesn’t know and love Hershey confections
and chocolate today?
8. H.J. Heinz began his career with a company that produced horseradish. It
went bankrupt. Thankfully, he was persistent and he had some other ideas in
mind. His food products left his competitors far behind trying to catch up.
9. Steve Jobs was fired from Apple, joining a long list of brilliant leaders
who have been removed from the companies they founded. He returned several years
later to turn Apple into one of the most successful technology and consumer
organizations in the world.
Thanks again to Bernard Marr for this inspiring compilation. And I’m sure
many of you could add a few more names, both famous and unknown, to the list.
All of them share the same successful characteristic: They never gave up, no
matter how many times they had to get back up and dust themselves off before
they could fully succeed. What about you?