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Summary: Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success by John C. Maxwell


Baseball slugger Tony Gwynn won eight batting titles in 20 seasons with the San Diego Padres. His .338 lifetime batting average means he failed to get a hit during approximately 67% of his at-bats. To further break that down, Gwynn had 9,288 turns at bat, but he failed to get a hit 6,147 times. Yet he established himself as one of Major League Baseball’s greatest hitters of all time. Gwynn proves that failure can generate great success. Prolific leadership author John C. Maxwell sets out a program that teaches how successful people use failure as a stepping stone to lifetime achievement. His message: Don’t fail backward; fail forward and learn to attain your goals.


  • Millionaire entrepreneur Dave Anderson failed forward a few times before he triumphed.
  • Welcome failure for what it teaches you.
  • To rebound after a failure, depend on your strength of character.
  • The Failing Forward program calls for 15 distinct action steps:
  • 1. Become a “teachable” person.
  • 2. Redefine failure.
  • 3. Come up with “20 new approaches.”
  • 4. Use action to defeat fear.
  • 5. Take responsibility.
  • 6. Don’t let internal negativity eat at you.
  • 7. “Say goodbye to yesterday.”
  • 8. “Change yourself, and your world changes.”
  • 9. Bounce back by helping other people.
  • 10. Look for the benefits in your mistakes or failures.
  • 11. “If at first you do succeed, try something harder.”
  • 12. Analyze a failure to turn it into a positive experience.
  • 13. Turn your weaknesses into strengths.
  • 14. Success takes work.
  • 15. Fear not.


Millionaire entrepreneur Dave Anderson failed forward a few times before he triumphed.

Few people have failed as often or as spectacularly as entrepreneur Dave Anderson. A Native American from the Choctaw and Chippewa tribes, Anderson graduated from high school in Chicago in 1971. Soon after, he heard a speech by motivational author Zig Ziglar, who promised that if you have faith in yourself, you will achieve your goals. Inspired and intrigued, Anderson listened to Ziglar’s audio tapes every night for six months.

Anderson’s father, a construction worker, invested a hard-earned $2,500 to help his son launch a business that quickly went bust. Anderson then spent several years at college only to end up with either terrible grades or incompletes. More failures followed, including a bankruptcy.At one point, Anderson was so broke he had to take his wife’s jewelry to a pawn shop and hock it for cash they desperately needed.

“You have to experience a lot of failure to achieve success. And the more failure you go through, the higher your success.” (Dave Anderson)

When Anderson began selling paper cups to restaurants his hard work, resilience and determination finally paid off. While working in the company’s last-place sales territory, Anderson became the American Can Company’s top salesperson and changed his territory into a sales leader.

In 1994, Anderson, who loved good food, co-founded the popular Rain Forest Café. The first café grew into a chain of restaurants that made Anderson rich. Next, he launched a barbecue restaurant that he intended to name Dave’s Famous Barbecue. A printer’s error changed the name to Famous Dave’s. Today, Anderson owns 24 Famous Dave’s in five states. Famous Dave’s employs more than 3,000 people and hits annual sales of $41.6 million. And Dave, the former failure, is worth about $30 million today.

Welcome failure for what it teaches you.

Don’t let failure knock you down. Don’t run from it. Don’t bury your head in the sand and hope to hide from your mistakes. Instead, welcome failure. You should fail early, fail often and always fail forward. Turn your mistakes into stepping stones for success.”

Failure is a necessary part of human existence, and many good things can come from failure if you stay strong and believe in yourself. Learn all you can from failure – about yourself, your ideas, your strengths, your weaknesses, your good and bad habits – and then move forward.

To rebound after a failure, depend on your strength of character.

Everyone makes mistakes and experiences failure; the experience of failure builds character. Each time you bravely continue despite the negative obstacles of your setbacks, you face your failures – not an easy thing to do – and call upon your character to impel you ahead.

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” (President Calvin Coolidge)

Think of a champion boxer who gets knocked down to the canvas. Just staying on the ground in a beaten bundle might be the easiest thing to do. But a champion gets up and keeps fighting. That’s true character. After all, as Aldous Huxley wrote, “Experience is not what happens to you. Experience is what you do with what happens to you.” Becoming a winner requires the courage, strength, conviction and self-belief to get back on your feet.

The Failing Forward program calls for 15 distinct action steps:

To turn failure into success, follow the 15-step Failing Forward system. Together, these steps constitute a strategic roadmap to resilience and achievement. Each step suggests a practical, results-oriented action.

1. Become a “teachable” person.

One trait differentiates “average people” from “achieving people.”Achieving people are good learners who regard setbacks as valuable teaching experiences. They understand that failure is a necessary component of progress.

2. Redefine failure.

Mistakes almost always precede success, so learn to understand failure as a way to learn a lesson and improve. For example, Chuck Braun of Idea Connection Systems provides his company’s new trainees with a “quota” of 30 mistakes they can apply during training. If a trainee uses all 30 mistakes, Braun supplies him or her with a new allotment of 30 more. What mistake quota will you assign to yourself?

3. Come up with “20 new approaches.”

Instead of seeing yourself as a failure when you make a mistake, open your mind to new ideas and perspectives on how to handle similar challenges in the future. Formulate 20 worthy alternatives to your previous – unsuccessful – actions. Try out at least 10 of them to see which works best. Even when a failure makes you feel bad, move ahead. Never sit on your hands waiting to feel better. Forge a way forward toward feeling good again. Concerted positive motion will improve your state of mind.

4. Use action to defeat fear.

Acknowledge and recognize your fears, so you can move beyond them. Write down the fears that concern you, and devise specific steps to address each one. Small doses of progress are fine. Any action is a positive step, as long as you follow it with another positive step. Never let your emotions keep you from acting. Accept your feelings, but trust in taking action.

5. Take responsibility.

No one is perfect. To use your failure as a positive tool, you first must take responsibility for it. Even if you believe that your failures are not your fault, try to reevaluate the events leading up to a failure. Work to be as objective as possible as you determine whether you are completely blameless – or if perhaps you bear some responsibility and have a lesson to learn. To harness a failure to improve your results, you must own it.

6. Don’t let internal negativity eat at you.

Failure can cause frustration and disappointment, but try not to let it get under your skin, tear you up inside or destroy your equanimity. Eliminate the stress of internalizing negative experiences.If you aren’t taking steps or getting help to ease your internal pain and strife, such action may be long overdue. Success requires your full attention, so you need and want to move beyond negative recriminations and ideations that undermine your focus. You can escape your negative internal voices.

7. “Say goodbye to yesterday.”

All adults carry baggage in the form of experiences that weigh them down and impede their ability to focus on the future. This internal baggage generally has a backward or negative orientation, the opposite of a positive, failing-forward orientation. To deal with internal negativity: 1) accept the pain; 2) grieve over past losses; 3) forgive those who wronged you; 4) forgive yourself; and 5) try to forget these prior negative events and experiences. Move ahead with positivity and energy.

8. “Change yourself, and your world changes.”

Study your situation to learn about yourself. Take a good hard look, and objectively catalog your strengths and weaknesses. Start by listing all your weaknesses, then move to your strengths. Complete this self-examination, then decide what steps you can take to improve.

9. Bounce back by helping other people.

You can “get over yourself” more easily if you become a giver who looks outward toward others instead of looking inward at your problems. Ask yourself if you are living in a full or empty world. In a full world, you do things for other people. In an empty world, you do things only for yourself. Don’t start an action with the idea of getting something in return. The successful people you most admire put others before themselves.

10. Look for the benefits in your mistakes or failures.

Almost every experience contains some seed that can bear future fruit. Ask yourself how you can make something good out of a bad outcome. What benefits can you derive from failure? These are hard questions but just think of all the professional and amateur athletes who found inspiration and motivation in past failures and went on to achieve championships. Or consider politicians who suffered defeat in hard-fought elections and later managed to parlay the ignominy of past defeat into electoral triumph.

11. “If at first you do succeed, try something harder.”

Productive change agents embrace risk because it often brings rewards. Ambitious goals and major accomplishments are frequently challenging and risky. Big winners rarely play it safe. The path to success requires accepting a certain degree of risk.

12. Analyze a failure to turn it into a positive experience.

To learn enough from a mistake so you can succeed, ask: What were the reasons for the failure? You? Your team? Someone else? An external situation or event? Who can help you understand your mistake? Does your failure contain any successes? What lessons can you learn?

13. Turn your weaknesses into strengths.

To examine your weaknesses, so you can turn them into strengths, ask a trusted friend for a no-holds-barred report about the traits you need to address. Armed with this candid assessment, devise a focused self-improvement program to build weak areas into strengths. You may need to “read books, attend classes or seminars, or find a mentor.”After you invest enough time and work, and you believe you have notably minimized your weaknesses, ask the friend who initially evaluated you for a fresh opinion.

14. Success takes work.

The degree of effort you expend is often the primary difference between failure and success. People who are willing to work hard to succeed have a great advantage. No mystery there. Just as often, people who don’t work hard seldom reach their goals.

15. Fear not.

You know you have something important to do, but being afraid is holding you back. Are you worried about failing? Set those negative thoughts aside – with help if necessary – and think positively. The lesson of failing forward is that to succeed eventually, you must occasionally fail. Your best plan is to brush yourself off, put failure behind you, get organized and go to work – at full speed.

Take every reasonable precaution, and don’t bog down in worrying about making mistakes. After all, you’re not perfect. You will goof up. Everyone does. Don’t fear your mistakes. Welcome them instead; learn from them – now you know you can fail forward.

“Get Up, Get Over It, Get Going.”

Babies are big failures. They fall every time they try to stand and take a few steps. This happens over and over. Then, after numerous tumbles, most babies learn to toddle along just fine on their own two feet. Almost every successful person has lived through a cycle of failing, persevering and succeeding. They fell, wailed a bit and got up – failing forward until they could walk wherever they please and pursue their goals.

About the Author

Bestselling leadership author John C. Maxwell has sold more than 26 million books in 50 languages. His books include The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You; Developing the Leader Within You 2.0; The 5 Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximize Your Potential; Leadership 101: What Every Leader Needs to Know; The Self-Aware Leader: Play to Your Strengths and Unleash Your Team; Winning With People: Discover the People Principles that Work for You Every Time; and many more.


“Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success” is a motivational book written by John C. Maxwell, a renowned author, speaker, and leadership expert. The book focuses on the concept of failing forward, which means learning from mistakes and using them as opportunities for growth and success. In this review, we will explore the key ideas, strengths, and weaknesses of the book, and provide an overall assessment of its usefulness for readers.

Key Ideas

  • The Fear of Failure: Maxwell argues that the fear of failure is a major obstacle to success. He emphasizes that failure is a natural part of the learning process and that it is essential to embrace it in order to move forward.
  • The Law of the Rubber Band: Maxwell uses the analogy of a rubber band to explain how failure can stretch us beyond our limits and help us grow. He suggests that we should embrace challenges that push us beyond our comfort zones, as they provide opportunities for growth and learning.
  • The 10 Steps to Failing Forward: Maxwell outlines 10 steps that can help readers turn mistakes into stepping stones for success. These steps include acknowledging and accepting responsibility for mistakes, learning from failures, and using them as opportunities for growth.
  • The Importance of Attitude: Maxwell stresses the importance of having a positive attitude when facing failure. He suggests that a positive attitude can help us learn from mistakes and use them as opportunities for growth, rather than dwelling on the negative aspects of failure.
  • The Role of Mentors: Maxwell emphasizes the importance of having mentors who can guide and support us in our journey to success. He suggests that mentors can provide valuable advice, encouragement, and accountability, which can help us overcome obstacles and achieve our goals.


  • Practical Advice: The book provides practical advice and strategies that readers can apply to their lives. Maxwell uses real-life examples and case studies to illustrate his points, making the book relatable and engaging.
  • Inspirational: The book is inspiring and motivational, encouraging readers to embrace failure as a natural part of the learning process. Maxwell’s positive and optimistic tone is infectious and can help readers develop a more positive attitude towards failure.
  • Relevant: The book’s message is relevant to anyone who wants to succeed in their personal or professional life. The principles outlined in the book can be applied to various situations, making it a valuable resource for anyone looking to learn from their mistakes and move forward.


  • Lack of Depth: Some readers may find that the book’s ideas and strategies are not presented in enough depth. The book is written in a concise and accessible style, which may leave some readers wanting more detailed information and examples.
  • Too Focused on Personal Development: The book’s focus on personal development may not appeal to readers who are looking for a more comprehensive approach to success. While the book does provide practical advice, it is primarily focused on personal growth and development, which may not be suitable for all readers.


“Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success” is a motivational and practical guide to help readers embrace failure and learn from their mistakes. The book provides valuable advice and strategies that can be applied to various aspects of life, making it a useful resource for anyone looking to succeed. While some readers may find the book’s ideas and strategies too basic, the book’s positive and optimistic tone makes it an inspiring read. Overall, the book is a useful addition to any personal development library, and is sure to inspire readers to embrace failure as a natural part of the learning process.

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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