Failure: The Essential Prerequisite for Success

Episode #1042: On this episode of the Arete Coach Podcast, we explore the importance of learning from failure. Severin Sorensen, executive coach and curator of the Arete Coach Podcast, reviews the research surrounding the importance of failure and highlights learnings gained as shared by previous guests on the Arete Coach Podcast. Learn from science and successful executive coaches worldwide on how to best embrace failure to achieve greater success.


About Severin Sorensen

Severin Sorensen is a serial entrepreneur and lifetime learner with a passionate curiosity for people and businesses. Severin is the CEO of ePraxis LLC, a premier level retained search firm that provides executive headhunting, talent selection, and executive coaching. In addition to finding top talent, Severin has provided over 7,500+ hours of paid executive coaching to entrepreneurs, CEOs, Presidents, and C-level executives. Severin is an ICF ACSTH Certified Executive Coach, Certified Organizational Development Coach, Certified Life Coach, and Certified Positive Intelligence® Coach. Severin is the founder/producer of a new podcast, Arete Coach, that explores the art and science of executive coaching with some of the industry's best coaches.


From 2010-2018 Severin was also a Vistage Chair where he coached three CEO and key executive groups. In 2011, Severin received the "Rookie of the Year Chair Award" from Vistage. Since 2013, Severin has added international speaking for Vistage, CEO conferences, executive peer groups, and corporations on the topic of identifying and hiring difference-making top talent.


After graduate school, Severin moved to Washington, DC, where he worked on security-related economic and public policy issues that included a brief stint in The White House, as a Special Assistant to the President, for George H. Bush (POTUS 41). In 1994, Severin founded Sparta Consulting Corp., and Sparta provided world-class physical security and safety related management consulting services for public and private sector entities. From 1994-2002, Severin managed HUD's Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design technical assistance and training program. In 2005, Severin sold Sparta to Westec Interactive (Digital Witness), which was subsequently acquired by Interface Security.


Severin, a native Californian, grew up in Salt Lake City, UT and graduated with honors from the University of Utah with Economics and Political Science degrees. He completed graduate studies in economics at King's College, Cambridge University (England), where he earned a M.Phil. degree in Economics. Severin has a great love and appreciation for sports, and while overseas, Severin rowed for the King's College Boat Club, and played basketball for the Cambridge University Basketball Team (1986-87).


Key highlights


Failure: the essential prerequisite for success

Timestamp 03:38


Research has shown that “entrepreneurs with prior experience and failed businesses have a 7.4% higher chance of success” when starting a new business compared to those without any entrepreneurial experience (Gompers, 2006). Further research has also pointed to the importance of learning from failure as well. Researcher Yin and his team “found that not all failures lead to success” and that it was essential for individuals and groups to understand where they went wrong, why they failed, and correct themselves accordingly. Severin summarizes these findings by stating that “the key finding that separates the successful from the unsuccessful wasn’t the experience of failure, but how the group [learned] from their failure.”


The impact of learning from failure

Timestamp 06:40


Research from Shmeul Ellis and Inbar Davidi identified the importance of reflection on both failures and successes. When they compared two groups of Israeli Defense Forces, they found that soldiers who learned from both failures and successes performed better than those who learned only from success. Learning from failures, as well as successes, is vital to the development of “richer mental concepts” and greater understandings.


Those who reject failure

Timestamp 09:39

Severin states that, “rejection of failure is a rejection of a learning opportunity.” Those who reject failures are more likely to quit early in order to avoid experiencing and feeling failure. They may also refuse responsibility for their failures and blame others. Lastly, they are likely to make excuses when confronted about former failures.


Those who accept failure

Timestamp 12:58


Those who accept and learn from failure are more likely to be “creative” and “realistically optimistic.” Lastly, they are more likely to be self-confident. This helps them recover from failures and learn how to avoid similar mistakes in the future. Their creativity and realistic optimism helps them create new solutions from their failures and challenges while still maintaining the appropriate amount of optimism for new business ventures.


Traits that assist with learning from failure

Timestamp 15:30


There are several traits that can assist individuals in their desire to learn from failure. Firstly, grit can help individuals persevere through failures. Second, self-confidence helps individuals and business leaders have faith in their ability to achieve their original goals and their ability to learn from their previous failures. Third, humility can help individuals manage the feelings that come with failure and use failure as an opportunity to learn. This humility also helps individuals take responsibility for their failings, further supporting their opportunity to learn.


React, reflect, respond

Timestamp 17:45


There are three phases to learning from failure. The first is react. After experiencing failure, everyone has an initial reaction. This will mostly be an emotional response such as depression or grief, however it is important to move from this stage onto the next: reflection. The reflection stage of learning from failure is the stage where there is intentional thought about the source and cause of failure. This is where a plan for step three in the learning from failure response comes from. Lastly, individuals must respond to their failure. With each failure comes a chance to change action, establish new standards or routines, or create plans that avoid similar failures in the future. By walking through each step of the learning from failure process, business leaders can use failure to its full advantage, all the while gaining new insight for future endeavors.


Learning from business and coaching experiences

Timestamp 24:52


Severin reviews excerpts from previous episodes’ discussions on what guests have learned from previous failures. Each podcast excerpt shares the failures that each guest of the Arete Coach Podcast experienced and the learnings they gained from these failures. In these excerpts we learn the importance of always learning, experiencing failure, and the importance of exit plans.


Learning from coaching failures

Timestamp 43:40


Severin reviews excerpts from previous episodes’ discussions on what guests have learned from their own failures as an executive coach. Each excerpt explains the failure and how the guest on the Arete Coach Podcast learned from it. In these excerpts we get a glimpse at the power of learning from failure and the importance of handling conflicts of interest and understanding a client’s goals.


22 insights on learning from failures

Timestamp 53:01


Severin shares 22 key insights that he has gained from his conversations with the many great guests on the Arete Coach podcast. Some key insights he includes in his summary include:

  • The failure to learn from mistakes is a problem

  • The failure to learn from the failures and success of others is a greater problem

  • Not getting the right fit with new members and just filling seats is a problem

  • Failure to challenge a client is a problem

All of these insights have been discovered through conversations about past failures and point to the great lessons and knowledge that can be gained when we choose to learn from failure.


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