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In addition to the expected lessons on leadership at the Leaders in London conference last week, many speakers regularly honed in on the theme of embracing the positive force of failures.

Benjamin Zander asserted, “You cannot learn anything unless you make mistakes.  And the way to learn is to celebrate making mistakes by exclaiming ‘How fascinating!’  You cannot play great music unless your heart has been broken…so let’s have more broken hearts and get on with it.”  Also alluded to the notion of foolishness with his Rule 6 story:  “Rule #6 – Don’t take yourself so d*** seriously.”

Steve Levitt quoted Winston Churchill’s “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

Michael Eisner spoke so extensively on embracing failure, I couldn’t keep up.  In short, he said, “Punishing failure is to encourage mediocrity.  At Disney, we actually encouraged failure…We had this thing internally called the ‘Gong Show’ where ideas are kicked around.  It was almost a badge of honour to get gonged.  And from this sprung much of our success.  50 ideas would be great but 10 would be inappropriate.”

But, Gerald Ratner was perhaps UK’s poster child for embracing failure and brought all his lessons to his colourful and irreverent speech.  He started with, “People only think of me today for that one mistake I made, but in fact I made many.”  He noted the often commented transatlantic cultural difference “In America, they don’t take you seriously unless you have been through Chapter 11.  In the UK, you are finished.”  He noted how we didn’t shy from or run from his notorious past when he started again with his online jewellery business but called it ‘Ratners Online’ at first.  The notoriety created cut-through from all the other offerings.  “We tried to turn a negative into a positive.”

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