Viv Groskop: Trust me on this, failure is absolutely crucial to being a success


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What do humans love more than good food, fine wine or even simply breathing? Being right. So argues Kathryn Schulz, author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, a very funny and clever book about why we should take more pleasure in making terrible mistakes.

As a person who usually thinks – no, always knows – that they are right about everything, this appeals greatly. Maybe this theory can give you a renewed feeling of rightness even when you are wrong. And, therefore, more opportunities to be right no matter what.

Intriguingly, Dragons' Den supremo James Caan had the same message this week, as he launched his dubiously titled self-help book Start Your Business in Seven Days. Speaking at Books for Breakfast at London's Soho House yesterday to a group of wide-eyed wannabe millionaires (he's worth £73m), he drew gasps when he talked about his favourite life lesson – the time he had to write a cheque for nearly £100,000 every week for 26 weeks when he bought the struggling cheap takeaway chain, Benjys. Within six months, he had frittered away more than £2m on cut-price cheese baps.

Did this failure depress him? No. It made him happy. The day after the company went into the hands of the receivers, Caan told how he woke up and shrugged to himself, "Oh, dear. I messed up." He framed it as an error. And one that he would know how to correct next time.

It turned out that no matter how many squidgy sandwiches they shifted, they couldn't cover the rent. And they couldn't put up the price of their goods because Benjys' whole selling point was being cheap. Caan realised he would not make the same mistake again, and he could use the knowledge to take better-calculated risks next time.

This is what Schulz calls "feeling better about not being perfect" because "being wrong is an inescapable part of being alive". Perhaps that's why Being Wrong was the bedside reading most frequently recommended at Editorial Intelligence's recent networking jamboree for CEO types and "thought leaders" in Portmeirion, north Wales. This event featured such luminaries as the Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees, the Wellcome Trust's Sir Mark Walport and Channel 4's Jon Snow. Evidently, you don't get to the top by succeeding. You need to fail, too. And the more spectacularly the better.

Failure, then, is the new success. We need to be wrong and mess up. The only drawback? Schulz argues that being wrong only counts if it happens to you by accident. You can't engineer it. This seems to me an excellent argument for always believing fervently that you are right about everything. All the more powerful when you turn out to be wrong. Massive success beckons.

A solution for midlife jivers

Toe-tappingly cheering news from Manchester. A rockin' nightclub initiative called Bop Local is drawing crowds of fortysomethings who refuse to ignore the demands of their frustrated inner teenage raver and will do anything for a chance to throw some shapes on the dancefloor. As long as they can be back in time for the babysitter. Manchester club promoter Tom O'Toole is behind the idea: "People like going out but they don't want to be dancing next to someone who is young enough to be their child," he explains. Hear, hear. The "clubbing for the over-35s" scheme is now being rolled out across the UK. Leg warmers and/or inappropriate footwear at the ready, I say.

Though, there is one objection. Bop Local plays indie music, 70s funk, reggae, soul and classic rave. That's no good. It's far too tasteful. Where do you go if you want Wham!, Kid Creole and Boney M? I'm spotting a gap in the market, James Caan. Surely so wrong it's right? For £100,000, I'll throw in some deeley boppers.

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