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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Failing, to Grow

If the prospect of visiting the Volvo Studio and the ABBA Museum is not sufficient incentive for you to book a weekend trip to Stockholm this summer, the recently opened Museum of Failure could tip the balance.

It houses over seventy failed products from around the world, such as Sony’s Betamax, Harley Davidson’s motorbike-scented perfume, and a beef lasagne marketed by none other than Colgate.

Bizarre maybe, but the Museum highlights the role of failure in the risky business of product innovation. There are echoes of the columnist Mike Malone’s unexpected description of Silicon Valley as a ‘graveyard’, because ‘failure is its greatest strength’.

But, let’s be honest, we prefer success to failure. Success teaches us what we’re good at. Our achievements early in life shape our identity and sense of self-worth.

Failure, on the other hand, can leave us feeling hollow, drained, frustrated, and confused. Failure undermines our self-confidence and dissipates our hopes. While it may be fine for Silicon Valley start-ups to fail, we don’t want our surgeons, air traffic controllers or our financial advisers getting in on the act.

As we progress through life, however, we come to realise that times of failure are, in fact, inevitable. I still recall with disturbing clarity the school cricket ground where I was bowled out first ball for the first time. It’s harder to admit other failures in relationships, professional life, and ministry, which have had a more profound impact.

Failure shapes us in ways that success never can. Many writers unpick the role that failure plays in our spiritual growth. Failure places us out of control and beyond the limit of our own resourcefulness. These are places we wouldn’t choose to be, but they are places we need to get to. As Richard Rohr writes in Falling Upward: ‘we must stumble and fall … we must actually be out of the driver’s seat for a while, or we will never learn how to give up control to the Real Guide.’

Perhaps learning to ‘fail well’ is as critical for us individually as it is for great companies. It means resisting the instinct to retract our wounded hands and conceal our disappointed hearts. Instead, we donate our personal ‘exhibits’ of failure to a God who longs to teach us that he is trustworthy and gracious. And perhaps sorrow at our failure can be transformed into a dance of faith.


Nick Tatchell
Nick is an HR consultant


  1. I believe that dealing with success is more difficult , to do it without triumphalism and giving the credit where it is due . The gifts and guidance of our creator.

    By mary quenby  -  11 Aug 2017
  2. You are right, of course, and as believers we can know that God is in control. However when something that really matters, in to which we have put great effort, fails, knowledge and feelings can become disconnected.

    By Felicity Hunt  -  11 Aug 2017
  3. One of my favourite mantras is from a family-favourite movie ‘Meet the Robinsons’ – From failure you learn: from success – not so much. It’s a beautiful moment of epiphany from a crazy family of inventors for a wee orphan boy.

    By Monika Redman  -  12 Aug 2017
  4. Our witness is to publicly acknowledge we have given control to God in times of difficulty and adversity and when others see our strength and the ability to carry on is due to a higher being.
    The peace and reassurance that God is with us and whatever the outcome, we are in his hands.

    By Ann  -  12 Aug 2017
  5. How we define success may leave us with a vulnerability? I remember an author, an expert in Victorian Illustration, being confronted with feelings of depression at the very point of his success in publishing the results of his years of research. He could well have expected to feel successful. The change in his routine after years of focus upon his goal may have precipitated this? My experience of life suggests that our reductionist approach to cause and effect misses the point that there are individual outcomes: we are all unique. We will all have to learn to give glory to God through times of both ‘success’ & ‘failure’…apparent failure was The Messiah’s greatest Victory…Death on a Cross.

    By Geoffrey Richardson  -  12 Aug 2017
  6. As Pride is the deadliest sin, so Humility is a primary virtue.
    Oh, the problems that would be avoided if Christians developed humility.
    But who wants to suffer humiliation?
    [It’s what Jesus did]
    “The Gospel of Falling Down” is a great read

    By Mick  -  12 Aug 2017
  7. Unfortunately the concept of learning to deal with failure is constantly avoided in our school curriculum. In the competitive world of society, work and home etc we cannot all be winners every time. Rejection and failure do hurt. Our children need to learn not to be bitter and sore. They need to know that God’s standards are totally different from those of the world. When we realize that we have become a son or daughter of the living God then what negative thoughts the world heaps upon us fade rather significantly.

    By Tom McClean  -  19 Aug 2017

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