You remember, right? Your whole life, people telling you “it’s so wonderful to learn from your mistakes.” Is it? Is it really? I don’t know. Well, I think I know now, but just follow along here because as of a couple of days ago, I don’t think I actually knew the answer to this question. I’d read one book and it would tell me that when you’re starting a business, the most important thing in the world is to learn from your mistakes and then I’d read a second book that would tell me that you don’t learn anything from failure. Who’s right? Who knows?
The standard argument is that failure provides an opportunity to learn from your mistakes. That’s what they say, right? You learn from your mistakes. But do you? Do you really? Let’s run you through a scenario and see what you think. Ok, so you take your life savings and you invest it in an up and coming tech company. That company fails miserably and you lose your entire life savings. You lose your house, your car and any semblance you have of a future. But luckily you’ve “learned” a valuable lesson. So, now the next time that opportunity presents itself, you’ll know what to do.

Except for one small problem. That exact opportunity will never, ever present itself again. You see, in most cases, no opportunity ever presents itself twice. Think about it. Tonight, I want you to copy down the winning lotto numbers. Tomorrow, buy a ticket and use those numbers. That will work, right? Ok, well, if that won’t work try this. Take a look at today’s stock exchange. Just pick whichever stock did best and invest in that today. That will work, right?

Failing teaches you how to fail. Knowing how to fail is not the same as learning to succeed. Ok, so we’ve established that you actually do learn something from failing but that the thing that you learn is absolutely useless. Well, that’s one point of view.

On the other hand, making mistakes is one of the fundamental pathways, used for thousands of years, to success. Albert Einstein wrote hundreds of papers that no one ever cites because they’re terrible and don’t make any sense. Pablo Picasso produced thousands of works of art that are collecting dust in the basement because they were terrible.

So where does that leave us? Great people have made mistakes. And then sometimes they’ve done something really awesome. But there seems no way to figure out how to connect the two of these things. So what do you do?

Two things really. First, if you’re going to make a mistake, don’t bet everything on it. Don’t throw everything away on one bet. Second, if you’re going to risk it, make sure it’s worth it. What’s the overall lesson? When you bet, bet smart and when you bet big, make it count.