James Dyson is an overachiever who positively embraces disappointment. ‘Failure is interesting – it’s part of making progress,’ he said. ‘You never learn from success, but you do learn from failure.’

Dyson should know – he spent 15 years developing 5,126 prototypes of his vacuum cleaner before finally hitting on the version that became a worldwide success.

Richard Branson is another who is very open about his errors, and how they have paved the way for his future successes. ‘Every successful person has at least one thing in common: they’ve got things wrong over and over again before finding the right solution,’ he wrote in a blog called ‘My Greatest Failure’.

A bitter pill – that does you good

‘Whether it is launching companies like Virgin Brides and Virgin Cola that fell flat on their face, making the wrong call on investments, or simply forgetting to return a call or send an email, I have made hundreds of mistakes. I’m sure I’ll make many more this year, and learn valuable lessons from every error.’

Branson’s first big failure came in his twenties when he failed to sell his Student magazine to a big publishing house. It took fright, he said, when he began to sketch out a grand vision of related enterprises, from other magazines to banks and travel companies. But that failure led directly to the creation of the Virgin empire, he said.

Branson’s enthusiasm for others to taste the bitter pill of failure extends to his own family. His daughter Holly said how disappointed he was when she rang him to say she’d passed her driving test. ‘ “Oh no, really?’’ ’ she remembers her telling him. ‘ “I just really wanted you to fail at something. ’’ ’

Believe in yourself

So what does it take to shrug off disappointment and persevere, even when it seems like the whole world is telling you that you’ve got it wrong? An unshakeable belief that your idea is a good one, according to Nick Hungerford, founder of Nutmeg, the online investment platform that is disrupting the asset management industry.

‘I really understood that there was a massive need for this service and that we were doing something great for customers and I think that drives you,’ Hungerford said. ‘I could never start a business that required the effort of Nutmeg if it wasn’t for a “good cause” because when you get out of bed every morning you’ve got to really love what you do.’

But Hungerford’s dream was fading fast. He was living on a friend’s sofa, having maxed out his credit cards, touting his idea around angel investors in Silicon Valley. He had been turned down 45 times and had decided to give up and get a job by the end of the year. Then came his 46th meeting, with Tim Draper, an early investor in Hotmail and Skype. Draper loved the idea and agreed to invest, and soon a number of other investors followed suit. Now, Nutmeg manages hundreds of millions of pounds for thousands of customers.

Learn from your mistakes

So success entails getting it wrong over and over again. As Winston Churchill said: ‘Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.’ Because if you fail enough times then, sooner or later, you’re going to know exactly what it takes to do it right.  

Picture credit: Nutmeg