Quotes about Failure

FailA few years ago I wrote a series of posts with quotes about Performance Management (Feb 2009, Sept 2009, May 2010). Last week the Global Language Monitor announced that ‘404’ and ‘fail’ are the two most popular words of 2013. Given the popularity of failure, I thought I would catalog a few of my favorite quotes about failing:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Thomas Edison, American inventor

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
Winston Churchill, British politician

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”
Salvador Dalí, Spanish painter

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
Maya Angelou, American author

“Go on failing. Go on. Only next time, try to fail better.”
Samuel Beckett, Irish novelist

“It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”
Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States

And one that I’ve been using in talks:

Failure is the new black.

What are your favorite quotes about failure?

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18 Responses to Quotes about Failure

  1. kerrplunks November 17, 2013 at 10:22 pm #

    I have two:

    “If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.” Woody Allen

    “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” Bill Cosby

  2. Eugen Winschel November 17, 2013 at 10:34 pm #

    Great post!

    One of my favorite quotes is from the famous #23:
    “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
    Michael Jordan

  3. Brian McGoff November 17, 2013 at 11:09 pm #

    Good stuff Jonathan.

  4. kevinjenscox November 17, 2013 at 11:17 pm #


    Nice idea to explore the fame of fail. Here’re a few chestnuts from one of adland’s greats, Bill Bernbach of DDB fame (oft identified as the antecedent to Don Draper in “Mad Men” http://bit.ly/HU8gwl ). I befriended his personal secretary Nancy while working there. She gifted me a special book of his quotes. Here’re a few perspectives on fail from the original mad man:

    “If you stand for something, you will always find some people for you and some against you. If you stand for nothing, you will find nobody against you, and nobody for you.”

    “An important idea not communicated persuasively is like having no idea at all.”

    “The great mistakes are made when we feel we are beyond questioning.”

    “A unique selling proposition is no longer enough, without a unique selling talent it may die.”

    “An idea can turn to dust or magic depending on the talent that rubs against it.”

    “There are few things more destructive than an unsound idea persuasively expressed.”

    “Imitation can be commercial suicide.”

    Harsh-yes. But you asked for it!

    Best regards,
    Kevin Cox

  5. Rajesh Kumar November 18, 2013 at 12:17 am #

    NIce theme and very timely in this part of year 🙂

    Here are some quotes from Musicians, that I like

    “mistakes are part of the game. it’s how well you recover from them, that’s the mark of a great player.”
    – Alice Cooper

    “i see myself as an intelligent, sensitive human, with the soul of a clown which forces me to blow it at the most important moments.”
    – Jim Morrison

    “i can’t tell you the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone.”
    – Ed Sheeran

    “everyone is your best friend when you are successful. make sure that the people that you surround yourself with are also the people that you are not afraid of failing with.”
    – Paula Abdul

    “it’s better to burn out than fade away.”
    – Kurt Cobain

    “until you’re ready to look foolish, you’ll never have the possibility of being great.”
    – Cher

  6. Shawn Reynolds November 18, 2013 at 5:49 am #

    A great quote from Henry Ford
    “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” Also, one that I from Capote
    “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”

  7. Gabi Herzog November 18, 2013 at 9:41 am #

    “If you can’t do it good, do it loud

  8. Laura Mikovsky (@lauramikovsky) November 18, 2013 at 10:20 am #

    My high school orchestra teacher always said, “If you’re going to play the wrong note, do it loudly”. Great metaphor for risk-taking.

  9. Ted Sapountzis (@sapountzis) November 18, 2013 at 10:49 am #


    Great post, here are a couple more:

    If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate” (Thomas J. Watson) http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/t/thomasjwa209877.html

    This is not a quote per se, but here is an article from Tom Peters that states “Sam [Walton] is unafraid to fail”


  10. Helen Kushakovska November 18, 2013 at 11:17 am #

    Not necessarily about failure, but this quote from Winston Churchill kept me going through a few failures :”never, never, never, never give up!”

  11. christinekgraf November 18, 2013 at 1:19 pm #

    Thanks, great post! My favorites

    “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”

    – Truman Capote


    “Success is most often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable.”
    – Coco Chanel


    “Success, after all, loves a witness, but failure can’t exist without one.”

    – Junot Diaz


    “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”
    – Henry Ford


    “What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.”
    – Oscar Wilde


    ” You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.”
    – Johnny Cash

  12. Jerry Nichols November 26, 2013 at 4:50 pm #

    Every failure is a chance to improve.

  13. Anshul Dhingra December 5, 2013 at 8:40 am #

    Great post. Here is another one –

    Fear of failure is worse than failure

  14. Violette D. March 17, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

    “People may know you for your successes and think that everything you do turns out perfect the first time and you don’t have to work at it. But the truth is that every great artist has his share of failures, too. The failures help you learn how to be a success.” — Robert Lepage, Quebec theater director.


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