In the months leading up to the launch of my book, The 7 Non-Negotiables of Winning, I’ve talked a lot about winning—but I’ve talked a lot about failing, too. Learning how to fail productively—to “Fail Up”—is one of the greatest secrets to full-on success.
And in that vein, I was impressed with a recent article by business author Bernard Marr. He pointed out that there is one single thing that all “radically successful” people have in common: They have a ferocious drive and hunger for success that makes them never give up.
There are many varieties of success. Jobs and careers are one area, but success in family life, personal relationships, community and church work, philanthropy and sports or treasured hobbies are important success priorities as well.
One thing is certain: There is no clear and definitive path to success for anyone. The most successful people in any endeavor will tell you many stories of failure within their life journeys. Many (if not all) have experienced major failures, multiple times. But they never gave up.
As I have said many times, the greatest secret to success is learning how to “Fail Up.” It would even be fair to say that failure is the driver that makes truly successful people even more hungry and determined to achieve their success.
1. Henry Ford stands tall as a pioneer of modern business, yet this founder of the Ford Motor F +0.65% Company failed many times on his route to success. His first business attempt at building a motor car was shuttered after just a year and a half when stockholders lost confidence in his ability to succeed. He gathered more cash and re-started his effort, but a year later was forced out of his own company yet again. The entire motor industry had lost faith in Henry Ford, but he was not deterred. He found another investor to start the Ford Motor Company, and the rest is history.
2. Walt Disney DIS +1.2% – The creator of the global Disney empire of film studios, theme parks, and consumer merchandise travelled a long and winding road to success. Amazingly, Walt Disney was fired from an early job at the Kansas City Star Newspaper because he was “not creative enough.” In 1922 he launched a Kansas-based company called Laugh-O-Gram with a mission to produce cartoons and short advertising films. One year later, in 1923, the business went broke. He didn’t give up, though. He moved from Kansas to Hollywood to begin another venture, and The Walt Disney Company was born.
3. Richard Branson – A personal favorite of mine, Richard Branson is a highly successful entrepreneur. In fact, in a prior article, I named him one of the Top 10 Living Business Leaders Today. Branson’s successful ventures include Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Music, and Virgin Active. At age 16, however, Branson was a high school drop out with hopes of starting a student magazine. It didn’t succeed. He went on to establish a mail-order record business that did so well it led to the creation of the record shop he called Virgin. Today we know him as one of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs, but on his path to success he endured many more failures, including Virgin Cola, Virgin Vodka, Virgin Clothes, Virgin Vie, and Virgin Cards. Thank heavens he never gave up.
4. Oprah Winfrey has just returned to the No. 1 position on the Forbes celebrity list after two years in second place and a drop in income of $88 million since last year. She is broadly acclaimed as the queen of entertainment, and has enjoyed an amazing career as a talk show host, media proprietor, actress, and producer. However, Oprah began her life in poverty, and in her earlier career she endured numerous setbacks, such as getting fired from her job as a reporter because she was ”unfit for television,” and fired as the co-anchor of weekday news on WJZ-TV, which resulted in her being demoted to morning TV. Clearly those organizations didn’t recognize the incredible talent they were squandering.
5. J.K. Rowling – The iconic writer of the Harry Potter series, which has resulted in the sale of more than 400 million books, is also responsible for the most successful and lucrative book-based film series in history. However, early in her career as an author, Rowling received endless rejections from publishers. Even her famous Harry Potter manuscript was rejected outright for reasons, such as, ”It is far too long for a children’s book” or, ”Children books never make any money.” Her story is even more inspiring when you realize that she was a divorced single mother who was living on welfare when her career as a writer began.
6. Bill Gates –The famous co-founder and chairman of Microsoft dropped out of Harvard to set up a business called Traf-O-Data. The partnership between Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and Paul Gilbert was based on a good idea to read data from roadway traffic counters and create automated reports on traffic flows. But the business model was flawed and the company had few customers and resulted in losses from 1974 to 1980 before it was closed. But Bill and his partner Paul Allen put the lessons they’d learned to good use when they created Microsoft.
7. Milton Hershey failed in his first two attempts to set up a confectionary business. But is there any of us who doesn’t know and love Hershey confections and chocolate today?
8. H.J. Heinz began his career with a company that produced horseradish. It went bankrupt. Thankfully, he was persistent and he had some other ideas in mind. His food products left his competitors far behind trying to catch up.
9. Steve Jobs was fired from Apple, joining a long list of brilliant leaders who have been removed from the companies they founded. He returned several years later to turn Apple into one of the most successful technology and consumer organizations in the world.
Thanks again to Bernard Marr for this inspiring compilation. And I’m sure many of you could add a few more names, both famous and unknown, to the list. All of them share the same successful characteristic: They never gave up, no matter how many times they had to get back up and dust themselves off before they could fully succeed. What about you?
Amazon named David Williams’ book, The 7 Non-Negotiables of Winning, one of its Top 10 Business Books for July. Additional reporting for this article was provided by Fishbowl President Mary Michelle Scott.
As originally published in Forbes Magazine