The Fail Credential

There is a fine line between failing as a credential or failing as an excuse!

No excuses in this post which I wrote about a start up “fail” of mine “Is there such a thing as successful fail ?”

I first heard ‘fail’ used as a credential, when my start up co-founder Alex was in the process of hiring a very accomplished individual of twenty-two to be part of our initial team. On paper he was quite amazing; everything he had done was really very successful, and he had done more than you’d think possible at twenty-two! But Alex was still hesitant, and told me why:  the applicant did not have any “fail credentials”, translated: he had never failed and recovered, so how was he going to handle the roller coaster downside of a start up or a complete fail, for that matter?

Traditionally and until quite recently ‘fail’ has been considered a dirty word. Something to avoid discussing at all costs, especially if you have had the bad luck to fail!

We’ve all known people who use the excuse of failing, to not try again, or to not try at all!  This happens to both those who have failed, and those who have the fear of failing!  We also make excuses for others; ‘his childhood was such a failure, so what can you expect’ Nah. Lots of people have survived failed childhoods, and overcome the challenges and become very successful.

Recently there has been a big about-face, and I am finding that failure can even be considered a good thing! Even a credential!  Maybe in the old days you had to be a genius, like Thomas Edison, to be allowed the luxury of failing J. When asked about his failures he said “I didn’t fail 3,000 times. I found 3,000 ways how not to create a lightbulb”.

The design-thinking  mindset of today embraces failing; fail often and fail fast it tells us. How do we apply this to bringing out the best in the people we work with?

One way is encouraging your team members to try new and different things often, and allowing them to fail without liability.

Without liability means examining the path to failure, analyzing the assumptions & missed goals, as I did in my post about ‘Successful Fail’. Understand the why and the how, and build on that learning experience, and try again. If everyone on the team is supportive of everyone else on the team, this can be a dynamic and collaborative learning experience, instead of a “finger pointing” exercise!

How to apply this to the customer experience? Oh no, we can’t let the customer see us failJ Wrong! In order to design the very best experience for our customers, we need to understand, from their POV, where we are succeeding and where we are failing!  So when your client or customer lets you know where you are failing, you can turn it into a “win” and a ‘fail credential’.

“Due to great feedback from our customers we found the bugs in our process, and have re-designed for a better experience for everyone!”  That’s a really great example of a “fail credential”

How do your team members, clients and customers feel about failing? How have you turned a fail into a successful fail credential?


CASUDI aka Caroline Di Diego
Caroline Di Diego aka CASUDI is a Social Media whisperer helping Brands, Communities and individuals find their social voice. She is the creator of the successful Entrepreneurs Questions blog; an effective self-help resource for Entrepreneurs. She is an award winning documentary film-maker, using New-Media to tell people's stories with impact. Esse Group, boutique consultancy has been helping companies move from concept/chaos to fundable and or profitable for over 25 years. INCLINEDESIGN focuses on Architectural Design solutions. She is a Co-Founder of the non-profit BankOnRain, solving the global water crisis with an available resource, THINK RAIN! . She is an avid guest blogger
CASUDI aka Caroline Di Diego
CASUDI aka Caroline Di Diego




  • March 9, 2013


    Ah yes, I remember the ‘fail credential’ conversation well.

    I’d also offer that one should be mindful of cultural context as well when considering failure. Arguably, American business culture is the strongest in the world for valuing ‘fail credentials’ in the context of the long path to success. Indeed, as you point out, there is a very strong argument to embrace ‘fail credentials’ as useful grounding in entrepreneurial endeavors. While the lessons from failure can remain in other cultures, embracing it, particularly publicly, may not be suitable.

  • March 9, 2013


    I have to confess this was indeed written from a very “American” POV, and in another culture I might have had to write “How to Save Face in the Face of Failure!”

    Maybe this other post (the non transparency of which will go against the grain of many here) but would help our readers understand how different the “leadership” game is in other cultures, and just because it is different it should not be labeled wrong.

  • March 9, 2013


    Thanks @Darnoc ~ Alex for visiting #BeAleader ~ really appreciate (as always) your excellent feedback ~ PS to previous comment:-)

  • March 17, 2013

    Melissa Galt

    And believe in a concept called “failing forward” that means each fail brings you closer to the success you most want . . .Being willing to fail is an essential part of being a leader, a business owner, a sales professionals and entrepreneur. It is never failure anyway but lessons learned that enable us to leap frog forward.

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  • May 6, 2014

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