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Why Indians fear failure?

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” — Albert Einstein. We can rephrase it is as “Anyone who has never failed has never tried anything new”. But then why are we afraid of failures?

Why Indians fear failure

Being an Indian, I am not stating this as a fact, rather as an observation with a 28 year old eye. Last seven years in the Indian corporate world, where I was hired for innovation, have forced me to conclude that “Yes, We (Indians) are taught to succeed and not to fail”. Most of the times, failure is seen as a result of inefficient, unfocused and UNWANTED attempts made by an inefficient, unfocused and not so smart individual.

It takes me back to the year 1995, my 10th grade science practical exam. We were asked to make projects based on scientific theories. The most popular choice was to go for a wind mill or a solar heater. Our seniors did it and their seniors too and probably their seniors too, everybody knew about these so called popular yet regular projects. However, my friend Rajkumar decided to break the so called success mantra by doing something new, a water clock. He made a water clock where one drop of water was hitting a second’s hand every second (He did all the calculations and I guess it worked). But he really had a tough time in convincing his teachers of its worth (and his hard work). He was discouraged at every stage and the weapon used to dissuade him was again the after effects of failure. It’s not a story with one Rajkumar but almost every Rajkumar.

Here are my viewpoints on why (most of) the Indians are not very comfortable with failures:

  1. We hardly failed: From our childhood we hardly failed as we were not allowed to fail. We were given a tested formula before every experiment which minimized the chances of failure to almost zero. We were almost always taught the “how to” with “what to”. As we grow the word failure takes a different meaning altogether as we never saw that as a part of our normal day to day life.
  2. Failure makes YOU a failure: It was always inculcated that failure makes you a failure. Things are changing but still the respect for the failure is missing. I really liked Sir Ken Robinson talk on “Do schools kill creativity?“. I wonder if our education system is creating the fear of failure inside.
  3. Less freedom for innovation at higher education level: I had been a student of 2 great universities but we hardly had the freedom to try something new. Creating something new was an option that was left for not so important (out of course) subjects. I personally feel that at PG level or professional courses there should be classes on the necessity of attempts and failures. The more freedom you have for innovation the more you will try and least will you fear failures.
  4. We never enjoyed the luxury offered by failures: Every failure comes with a cost – huge or low. Most of the time we can not enjoy the luxury offered by failure due to the cost and the time involved with every venture. Failure is a lot of fun when you are not putting your throat at risk. How many of us have modified our two wheelers for fun? We owned them for use (I am happy that things are changing very fast though)
  5. At corporate world we are appreciated for success (only):

    Ganguly dravid

    However, in my present organization we take special care to ensure that real attempts are appreciated and awards are not limited to successful attempts only. In fact, I wrote a mail to all the employees asking them to fail more often.

Things are changing very fast. We (Indians) are trying our best to make failure less fearful both at personal and corporate levels. The term failure is being redefined by the latest high-end mergers and acquisitions by risk taking Indian companies. It may be considered as some indications of the new era.

Abraham Lincoln was a success man
Abraham Lincoln was a successful man

  • Failed in business at age 21.
  • Was defeated in a legislative race at age 22.
  • Failed again in business at age 24.
  • Overcame the death of his sweetheart at age 26.
  • Had a nervous breakdown at age 27.
  • Lost a congressional race at age 34.
  • Lost a congressional race at age 36.
  • Lost a senatorial race at age 45.
  • Failed in an effort to become vice-president at age 47.
  • Lost a senatorial race at age 47.
  • Was elected PRESIDENT of the US at age 52!