Four lessons you can learn from famous failures

Nobody likes failing.  

But no matter who you are, you’re likely to have experienced some form of failure in life. And although it can often seem like a step backwards, it actually plays a big part in your future successes. Don’t believe us?

Here are four important lessons you can learn from famous failures (and how you can use them to turn a negative into a positive):


Learn from your mistakes

In 1985, Coca-Cola was losing a battle to its biggest rival, Pepsi – attributing their success to a sweeter tasting drink alongside the infamous ‘Pepsi Challenge’ adverts.

To reclaim the stage, Coca-Cola did something nobody asked for. They canned the old Coca-Cola formula, and launched a ‘New Coke’ that tasted more like Pepsi. Unfortunately, this wasn’t well-received by the public, and they were forced to abandon ‘New Coke’ within a few weeks.

The silver lining? Relaunching old coke as ‘Coca-Cola Classic’ gave their original product a whole new lease of life. Six months after it was rolled out, Coke’s sales had increased at more than twice the rate of Pepsis, effectively helping them win the cola wars for the rest of the 1980s.

Remember: everyone experiences failure. It’s how you deal with it that really matters (see also: if it ain’t broke, etc.)


Honourable mentions: Thomas Edison made 10,000 failed lightbulbs before finding a design that worked, Bill Gates’ first business collapsed before it got off the ground, and Nintendo were never discouraged by various products that didn’t make it big (from the Virtual Boy to the Satellaview).


Don’t let others stop you from pursuing your dreams

If Walt Disney’s success is anything to go by, other people’s opinions aren’t always valid.

Not only was he told he lacks creativity early on in his career at a Missouri newspaper, he also failed at running his first business, ‘Laugh-O-Gram’.

And whilst Walt found success in his first big cartoon, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, he was later forced to relinquish the rights to it when his long-time producer refused to give him more than a 20 percent cut of his films.

But he didn’t give up. Instead, Walt Disney went on to create Mickey Mouse, paving the way for 156 more successful films, and firmly cementing his name as a world leader in family entertainment.


Honourable mentions: Elvis Presley was told he couldn’t sing, Van Gogh only sold one painting during his lifetime, and Charles Darwin was labelled a ‘failure’ by his father.


You can’t win them all

Sometimes it takes some time (and a few failures) to find your niche.

The multinational technology company, Apple, taught us this back in 1995 when they figured out that gaming probably wasn’t their forte.

Hoping to expand their reach, they teamed with Bandai to create the Pippin, a gaming console that incorporated a combination of games, educational applications, and web browsing.

Unfortunately, the hefty price tag, low memory, and poor performance were just a few of reasons the Pippin failed to make it big. In fact, it only sold 42,000 units in its year on the shelves – whilst the likes of the N64 sold almost 500,000 units in just three days.

The founders of the popular ice cream company, Ben and Jerry’s, also tried and failed in other pursuits (including pottery and medical school), before realising their success lied at the bottom of an ice cream container.


Honourable mentions: Colonel Sanders was unsuccessful in almost every endeavour before perfecting the KFC recipe at 65 years old, Albert Einstein tried (and failed) working in insurance, and McDonalds’ attempt to make ‘Mighty Wings’ happen flopped in 2013 when it got a poor reception from consumers – and led to a huge excess of unwanted chicken*.


You can’t always do it alone

The ability to turn your failures into successes isn’t always something you can do on your own. Often the change comes from surrounding yourself with supportive people.

For example, after lacking an emotional connection to the characters in a story he was working on; the now successful writer, Stephen King, was ready to give up. It was only when his wife retrieved the crumpled Carrie manuscript from the bin that he was convinced to finish the novel and turn it into the best-selling book (and film) it is today.

She also continued to support him throughout his career, helping him through drug and alcohol addiction, and encouraging him to keep writing even when they were struggling financially.

Luckily, the hardships paid off, and he went on to write over 55 novels, selling over 350 million copies.

Without her there for support, it’s likely King would never have stuck at it and found success. Although clowns may have been infinitely less scary…


Honourable mentions: With falling sales and ageing customer base, Old Spice turned to ad agency Wieden + Kennedy to launch the award winning ad campaign, ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’, which quickly went viral and increased sales by over 107%. Thomas Edison’s mum home-schooled him after teachers said ‘too stupid to learn anything’, and Emily Blunt’s teachers encouraged her to get into acting and try new accents to overcome her stutter.

Six ‘before they were famous’ first jobs

Six celebrity career comebacks


*Yes, this was actually a thing.  


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Image credits

Coke Zero –

Walt Disney –×619

Apple Pippin –

Stephen King –


One thought on “Four lessons you can learn from famous failures

  1. Konstantinos Soteriou - April 12, 2018 at 17:13

    Great and very inspirational article. Although any one can project himself in every story and lesson with a totally different way, don’t forget to read behind the lines. Not fear failure, but always try to lose only what you can afford.