In Asia, we are taught from a young age that failure is the opposite of success. When we do poorly at school, we are told by our teachers we are a bad or less hardworking student; when our business runs into trouble, we risk being criticised for humiliating our family.
“Asians have a strong ‘save face’ mentality where they're generally unforgiving of failures, as it is perceived that failures mean weakness,” said Jacqueline Low, the former COO of Singapore-based corporate services firm Hawksford, in an interview with CNBC. This, she added, places unnecessary pressure on individuals to meet the expectations of others and a negative reaction when they fail to do so.
But the truth is, a society that isn’t willing to take risks for fear of failing isn’t ideal for business or innovation. As the late CEO and chairman of IBM Thomas Watson Sr once said: “The fastest way to succeed is to double your failure rate.”
While the concept of celebrating failure isn’t new, it wasn’t long ago when it really took off. For this, experts are thanking social media for making it easier to share our professional challenges and defeats. After all, we know that being able to talk about these issues and learn from others is the key to improving our productivity and boosting our professional growth. Here, we ask Gen.T honourees to weigh in on why failure is the best teacher in business and life.
Failure is a necessary evil
Setbacks are part of life and when we accept this fact, “nothing can stop you from achieving your true purpose”, says Iqbal Ameer, CEO of Malaysia-based lifestyle and experiential marketing specialist Livescape Group, which is behind Asia’s biggest festival at sea, It’s the Ship.
In 2014, Ameer and his team had to overcome a major setback when it had to cancel its three-day Future Music Festival Asia in Kuala Lumpur after several festival-goers died of a drug overdose. They also had to cancel the Singapore edition of the music festival the following year, after failing to get their public entertainment licence application approved by local authorities.
Rather than feel beaten down, Ameer considers these failures an essential part of the entrepreneurial journey. “As entrepreneurs, we shouldn’t forget that this infinite loop is the life we chose when we decided to become our own boss,” he says. “What we should do is fail fast in order to succeed in the long term.”
And when you fail again? He says: “It may be worse than before or not as bad. However, the feeling you get is definitely less [impactful]—and that is what we call experience.”