What are the most important lessons people can learn from failure? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Failure allows us to identify our blind spots. Ideally, it helps us avoid making the same mistake twice. That said, I've learned from my greatest weaknesses more than once. As is true for many people, my greatest weakness and my greatest strength are often one and the same. My biggest one is believing in a reality that I want to be true. A business school professor described entrepreneurs as having 'reality distortion fields,' which they need in order to build truly great companies. Similarly, a venture capitalist has to be able to see how the future will be different from the past despite significant data to the contrary. Optimism is a must in my job. However, just believing in the potential of a reality, doesn't make it so. It requires great humility to acknowledge that what you wanted to be true sometimes doesn't materialize, often for reasons you failed to see.

Failure also helps people become more themselves, reveal their own voice to both themselves and give them the courage to share with others. 'Never Look Away' a foreign film based on the life of the artist Gerhard Richter captures this poignantly. In the film, a young Richter starts out with art that largely reflects the style of others and as a result falls flat for viewers. His moment of artistic genius comes when he is able to dig into his own past, out of which emerges his own style and point of view. Only in responding to that failure could he create his best art, and become a great artist.

One recent lesson I've learned is that failures are not always obvious. It is hard to truly know what is a failure. Recently, a wise friend said: 'Do you really know if that's winning or losing quite yet?' It's true, both professionally and personally, many things we consider losses in the short term are wins in the long term. Outcomes are often unclear for many years and causality is hard to determine (not to mention the role of luck). While we can learn a lot from our failures it is critical not to over-rotate on what we think we may have learned in the near term based on our assumptions about what happened and why. My favorite economist John Maynard Keynes warns that "in the long run we are all dead." That said, from to time it is worth looking back on what we considered to be success or failure and why we thought it was so at the time. I am sure many outcomes look different in hindsight. The learnings from failure likely come over decades rather than days.

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Published on: Sep 30, 2019