One Question to Ask Yourself (and your team) Every Day

How have you failed today?

The founder of Spanx, (the billion-dollar hosiery and apparel company), Sara Blakely’s dad asked her each night at the family dinner table “How have you failed today?” rather than “how was your day?” What an amazing mind-shift to remove the focus from the results of the day to the striving, trying and even failing in your day.

Imagine if you could ask this question to your employees or even your customers on a daily basis. What additional insights could you gain?

Many high-achievers have adopted the mindset of “Win or Learn” rather than “Win or Lose” and for good reason. However, failure is still condemned and feared by many, but it’s actually a good thing.

Failure helps us:

  • Get Clear: when you learn what works (or what doesn’t) you can clear out the noise of the other millions of options. This clarity helps you refine priorities and give a true reality-check of your ideas.
  • Knowledge: The brain needs novelty to keep learning. Try something new or from a different angle – the knowledge will be invaluable.
  • Stamina: Once you get used to trying, failing and re-grouping, you gain stamina and grit. This is when true leadership shines through – you are no longer fearful of failure but actually seek it.
  • Boosts Creativity: When something doesn’t work, you often have to get creative to find a new solution, a new way which is good for business and keeps offerings fresh.
  • Reframe/Recommit: Failure helps us reframe and recommit to our goals. If after a small setback we don’t want to continue, we need to abandon, re-frame or recommit to a newer version.
  • Better Leader: Failure makes you a better leader. If you can guide others on the potential pitfalls and learnings you have achieved, your guidance is all the more valuable.

Recent studies have shown that students actually learned more, performed better in school and felt more confident when they were told failure was a normal part of learning.

At Smith College failure is literally on the syllabus by posting student and teachers’ failures for all to see. The presentation is part of a new initiative at Smith, “Failing Well,” that aims to “destigmatize failure.”

What if you gave yourself permission to and actually aimed to fail?

As Blakely said, “My dad always encouraged me to fail, and because of this… failure for me became about trying, instead of the outcome.”

Consider the following individuals. I think we can all agree they are successful, but they started out as “failures.”

  • J.K. Rowling was on welfare and had her manuscript rejected multiple times before landing a publisher for Harry Potter.
  • Thomas Edison was told by his teachers he was “too stupid to learn.” His mom then home schooled him and he later invented the light bulb.
  • Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team; he later became one of the greatest athletes of all time.
  • Ludwig Beethoven was called “hopeless” by his music teachers and went on to write 9 symphonies, 5 piano concertos, 1 violin concerto, 32 piano sonatas and 16 string quartets.

Think about it.

If you could do one thing each day that would improve your performance above all else it would be worth a try… right?

How have YOU failed today?

Have you ever tried and failed and the result was even better than you intended?

Send me your story to

Carrie D Clarke

Carrie D. Clarke, J.D. is lawyer turned business coach and personal strategist. Carrie collaborates with small business owners and executives to increase their profits and accomplish goals by focusing on values, applying evidence-based strategies and enhancing their strengths. Carrie is available for speaking engagements, 1:1 coaching and custom workshops.