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Failing Forward: Why Failure Is Your Friend

July 09 |

Cold sweat turning fear into panic, terrifying thoughts arising about your future, and all your work for nothing—a heart-wrenching truth indicated by a red mark on your test or paper reading “B+.” Secluded from society, school tends to condition students to define success as perfection: if you don’t get a 4.0/2400 in high school, then you won’t attend a great college, you won’t get a great job, and you won’t live a successful, happy life. Achieving these measures of “success”, as defined by others, seems to be the only way. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Achieving measures of ‘success’, as defined by others, seems to be the only way. But nothing could be further from the truth.

The most enriching environments afford individuals opportunities to succeed only by allowing such individuals opportunities to fail as well. In the ‘real world’, success is thus no longer defined as perfection, but rather as doing the best of which you are capable. A willingness to fail, in turn, becomes the essence of success and creates a positive spiral: the more I fail, the more I learn from my mistakes, the more I succeed. An aversion to failure oftentimes leads to an aversion to attempting, which prevents any chance of success. From my recent experience, I have come to appreciate this fundamental shift in perspective.

When I joined AlphaSights, we participated in weeks of classroom orientation and intensive one-on-one instruction with trainers. The focus was on enabling your self-sufficiency and success, mindful of twenty-somethings making the transition from college to the working world. The gap between classroom and reality—between theory and practice—is bridged only by an individual’s willingness to fail time and time again. Conveying the purpose of AlphaSights in a clear and precise manner to potential Expert Advisors, those high-level executives who inform the decision-making process of our clients, was the first major hurdle I encountered. On one occasion, I called a former President of a biotech company who had 40+ years of negotiating experience compared to my 3 months. His knowledge was highly specialized and my client would have derived significant value from a meeting or phone call. In short, I fell flat on my face and failed spectacularly. Unable to convince him to conduct a call, I had no choice but to dust myself off and move on.

failing forward

The time of high-level executives is extremely valuable. Thus, a certain pressure to efficiently and effectively articulate the worth of working with AlphaSights is inherent in such conversations. The confidence necessary to convince such individuals came only with time and constructive criticism: as an accomplished, approachable, and affable Associate, my trainer possessed the breadth and depth of experience to put my failure into perspective—i.e. instead of wallowing in self-pity and past failures, I ought to apply any lessons learned from the experience in future conversations. From failure came humility, from humility came learning, from learning came success.

“Never let what you can’t control influence what you can control” – John Wooden

Ten-time NCAA champion basketball coach John Wooden once said, “Never let what you can’t control influence what you can control.” Failure taught me I have responsibility for my actions: I can respond to the circumstances in which I find myself. Instead of shying away from trying due to a fear of failure, you can choose to enthusiastically embrace failure as a means of finding success: by focusing on what you can control armed with insights derived from past failures you can find success both personally and professionally within the AlphaSights community— something for which I am truly grateful.


Benjamin Coupe joined AlphaSights in 2015 as an Associate on our Capital Markets segment.