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From Where We Sit

Why failure can be good

Paz Malubay

The 2017 NBA championship is now part of history and the Golden State Warriors emerged as the winner. Their failure to win the 2016 NBA finals may have made them stronger, enabling them to win 4 -1 against last year’s champion, the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Warriors definitely learned from their failures.

Our own organizations and personal careers may also face their own ups and downs. But why do certain entities fare better than others in terms of bouncing back from failure? According to John Harmeling, chief marketing officer at Grant Thornton in the US, companies that are comfortable with failures are nimbler, more innovative and successful.

One of the interesting things they do at Grant Thornton is the ‘failure talk’. Every time the senior members of the marketing department meet, they always reserve 10 to 15 minutes to discuss their failures. One would volunteer and describe how he or she ‘failed’ at something; then together they’ll explore what went wrong and share the lessons.

This exercise enables them to be more comfortable with failure. By openly talking about it, they become more at ease with the prospect of failing in their own ventures. This, in turn, makes them more adventurous and less ruled by fear. And the more you become comfortable with failure, the easier it is for you to innovate.

There are at least four positive effects of espousing a culture that encourages people to try something new without fear of failure:

1) You can move on quickly

An admission that you made a wrong decision allows you to move on quickly. I applied this principle very early in my career. I was convinced that the early admission of my failure to my superiors would free me from worrying about the possible consequences of my mistakes. This allowed me to move on quickly to the next task at hand.
Early admission doesn’t totally free you from the consequences of your failures, of course. Some of my superiors would get mad while some just kept silent. In all instances, however, I realized that admitting it right away did not only help me quickly move on, but I also was able to gain my superior’s trust. Admission of failure lets me move onwards and upwards. The same can be said for organizations.

Organizations often resist a shift of direction because such can be seen as an admission of failure. However, if the current situation is already hampering the business, then a quick shift in direction could reap benefits sooner rather than later.

2) Your vision will be clearer

Too often, we stubbornly stand by bad decisions for the wrong reasons. Sometimes we’re afraid of upsetting the person who came up with the idea, especially if they happen to be our boss. So we let certain projects continue even if we know full well that it is doomed to fail. Being truthful in that situation is certainly difficult. But I believe that it is always good to be honest at the onset rather than regret later that you did not do anything. If you are afraid of failure, you are at risk of trying to justify everything, which is dangerous. Justifying everything could lead you to a path away from your original vision.

3) Ideas will flow

Employees must be free to air their ideas, however sensible or crazy. And they’ll only do that if they know they’ll not be shot down. Do you sometimes have this impression of your superiors that, even if you think you have the best idea on earth, you will just keep it to yourself because you know that they will always have a better idea? I do. I must admit I am also guilty of this.

In my daughter’s place of work, every employee is required to regularly share ideas. For this to work, they are requested to send it to the company president. Every idea is welcome. Based on my experience as well, an idea from one of our office cleaners helped us put a stop to unauthorized entry of strangers to our office. His suggestion more than a decade ago is still being followed up to now.

4) Success will be bigger

If you want to win big, you need to take risks – even though failure is a possibility. By contrast, if you’re risk-averse, you’ll miss out. Mr. Ben Punongbayan, at age 50, together with his co-founder Mr. Joe Araullo, established P&A. For me, it was a big risk. They invested most if not all of their resources in the firm, hired the best talents and got an office space that was bigger than their initial requirements. When a call to invest in technology came, they immediately invested without worrying too much about the bottom line. Now, after almost 30 years, P&A has indeed grown bigger and many lives have already been shaped and impacted (including mine) because of their boldness to take risks.

Balance risk with opportunity

I agree with John Harmeling that we have no choice but to get comfortable with failure, take calculated risks, encourage a culture of trial and error, and learn by sharing experiences. The key is to ensure that we have effective feedback loops – re-deploying resource and investment towards those ideas that are working out.
Innovate through trial and failure, be agile and nimble and instill a culture that lets everyone thrive in an environment where they are encouraged to have ideas. We cannot all be Golden State Warriors but we can be warriors in facing failures.

Paz Malubay is a Partner at P&A Grant Thornton. She is also the EVP & managing director for Payroll of P&A Grant Thornton Outsourcing, Inc. P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading audit, tax, advisory, and outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 21 Partners and over 850 staff members. For your comments, please email or For more information about P&A Grant Thornton, visit our website


As published in The Manila Times, dated 12 July 2017