The importance of failure for researchers- NEXUS

The importance of failure for researchers

In this post we share three tips on the importance of failure for researchers.

We’ll also touch on how failure can be turned into future successes for you and your work. 

These tips are inspired by the ‘Power of Failure’ event held by NEXUS and Bettakultcha (17 Oct 2019) in Leeds. 

Over 100 people came to the event to network and hear five speakers share personal and business stories.

Among them was our director, Mihaela Gruia, who spoke about failure early in her entrepreneurial journey.


The ‘Power of Failure’ event at Nexus Leeds

Nexus is a Leeds-based innovation hub. It provides businesses with the opportunity to work with researchers at the University of Leeds. Their aim is to bridge the gap between business and academia.  

We previously attended an event at Nexus, the Festival of Ideas, which brought together academia and industry.

Nexus and Bettakultcha collaborated on this event to bring stories several stories to life about the power of failure. Given today’s focus on sharing accomplishments, the event was a breath of fresh air because it allowed people to be vulnerable. 

Inspired by PechaKucha, BettaKultcha is a Leeds-born concept, co-founded by Ivor Tymchak and Richard Michie. The platform encourages individuals to share stories in a unique and engaging format. Presenters can only use 20 slides that run automatically for 15 seconds each.

At the event, five speakers shared their unique perspectives on failure, following the Bettakultcha format. The presentations were mostly image-based, engaging and all on time! 

The speakers talked about moments that could be described as ‘failures’ and how they have grown professionally and personally, improving relationships with those around them. 


In order of their presentations, the speakers were:



1) Mihaela Gruia

First up was Mihaela who shared her experience on a client collaboration she began working on but later failed and came to a halt.

Mihaela shared how the collaboration unfolded and the uncomfortable moment when things abruptly ended. 

Moreover, she shared four lessons that improved our client process:

– Increasing the time frame of the collaboration

– Aligning design visions by implementing several tools

– Not taking things personally and encouraging direct feedback

– Building education, not frustration, and strengthening our contractual agreements

In the end, Mihaela confessed that experiencing this failure early in her entrepreneurial career was a catalyst for positive change in how she developed our research support services

You can read more about this experience and what we learned from failing to meet client expectations.


2) Mark Ashton

Next up was Mark Ashton who spoke on the willingness to experiment and fail as key components in accelerating, learning and creating success. He shared his journey of starting his own firm, relaunching and having his best partners leave the firm. 

His 9-year research on the behaviours of the most successful companies led him to acquire a strong tam with shared values. 

“In any new venture, you should fire bullets not cannonballs. Life is a marathon, not a sprint.”


3) Sarah Tulip

The third speaker was Sarah Tulip who shared her personal experience in balancing her career with motherhood. 

She explained how despite experiencing tremendous professional success, what mattered most to her was showing up for her child and being a good mother. In defining what success meant for her, she shared:

“I do not need to be the same to be a success. I live by these few words…be a mother, be authentic be kind and be me.”


4) Simon Cookson

After Sarah, Simon Cookson’s speech on how he overcame the fear of failure by accepting and being himself inspired those who are afraid to pursue what they want from fear of rejection. 

He emphasised on the power of listening to one’s inner voice and going for our goals regardless of what others think or say. 

“I get rejected but I still put myself out there. I listen to what is important to me and ask myself, what do I want to do?”


5) Ben McKenna

Lastly, Ben McKenna posed a thought-provoking theme in his presentation, around whether we should be looking at failure on a personal level or think bigger.

He argued that we needed to go beyond personal failures and address the systemic failures of our society. 

To do so, he urged us to consider tackling financial, ecological and societal challenges in our society and being involved in large-scale change. He ended his presentation on a positive note, stating:

“Be excellent to each other and yourself. This is the only way we can create conditions for success.”

The importance of failure for researchers -NEXUS

Importance of failure for researchers 

The event only scratched the surface of what is a very complex topic.

Yet, the core message of the evening was that with failure comes the opportunity to learn and to improve our skills and crafts. 

Since research involves a journey of exploration and discovery, failure is an inherent part of the process.

After the event, we reflected on the link between failure and the research process and came up with three reasons on the importance of failure for researchers.


1. Failure helps create alternative approaches

One of the best aspects of failure is that you can always start again with a clearer perspective and better ideas.

Often times, failure forces research to explore fresh ideas and different approaches before finding the most suitable and relevant.

This also creates an opportunity to review one’s work and critically analyse the findings and the approaches used to collect and translate data. 

Researchers should remember that failing does not mean that the data collected and analysed is considered unsuccessful. On the contrary, this should create an opportunity to sit back and review what has been done and make corrections.

“Every failed experiment changes the researcher’s perspective, helps re-frame the experimental design, and leads to an increasingly refined approach to the problem narrowing alliteratively over time the possibilities for fruitful study.” (Loscalzo, 2014)

For researchers, failure can bring about opportunities for new discoveries. In turn, this benefits the ongoing journey of learning and incorporating new insights into one’s research.


2. Failure creates persistence and resilience

Persistence and resilience are key aspects of a researcher’s journey, which is often long-term and in-depth. 

During the research process, it’s impossible to estimate how many times someone might fail. However, remaining consistent and not giving up are key in order to reach the desired findings. 

In fact, failure can truly be considered so if the researcher gives up altogether. If a failure leads to a renewed effort, then it is simply a catalyst for forward action. 

“As researchers think about how to improve reproducibility, it’s important to remember that failure is a crucial part of the scientific process.” (White, 2019)

Therefore, researchers should not aim to fail as little as possible in their projects. Instead, they should perceive failed experiments as a sign of progress. 


3. Failure improves the quality of your research

Lastly, the importance of failure for researchers can be justified by the fact that it improves the quality of the research.

With failure comes the positive aspect of gaining in-depth knowledge and perfecting the quality of our work and our skills. 

Failing multiple times gives us the opportunity to review the problematic area(s) and strengthen our initiatives. 

When it comes to research, these areas are paramount to the quality of the research, and getting this right often involves many attempts:

– Research design

– Research question 

– The language used 

– Structure 

Research can never be perfect on the first attempt. Researchers have to always refine it in order to achieve the best outcome. 

In terms of improving data quality in research, Positly gives 22 tips on the topic. This can help turn a failed attempt into a successful well-presented piece of work, or help avoid errors from the onset. The guide offers key points to help you provide results that are credible and useful for your audience.

In our previous blog, you can also learn a few tips on how you can communicate your research to your key stakeholders even after overcoming your failure.



The  NEXUS and Bettakultcha ‘Power of Failure’ event offered a great opportunity for people to come together, learn from each other’s stories and feel empowered to see failure as a stepping stone to success.

Many thanks to the teams for organising it, for inviting us to speak and attend, and for providing us with the opportunity to reflect on the importance of failure for researchers. 

Many thanks to Grace Maina, our Content and Communications Coordinator, for contributing to this blogpost with research, writing and editing.

We’d love to hear from you… how do you perceive failure in relation to research?




Freeman, L. (2019). 22 Tips To Improve Data Quality in Your Research – Positly

Loscalzo, J. (2014). A Celebration of FailureNational Center for Biotechnology Information

White, M. (2019). Why Scientists Need to Fail – Pacific Standard

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