It's a nearling

Mentally, we are used to focusing on error and failure prevention, when we should actually let go of this focus and start learning from our mistakes. For true innovation, the ability to let go is just as important as thinking of the new. 

Sometimes it’s better to start doing something and discover you’re on the wrong path (you learned what isn’t the right path) instead of doing nothing- because then you have zero chance of learning anything. Yet the words ‘failure’ and ‘mistake’ still have a negative connotation to them.

Let me introduce a new word:

A nearling is a positive word for something new that was done with the right intentions, which has not (yet) led to the right result.

The reasons why nearlings don’t succeed can be diverse: the circumstances have changed; a better option has been chosen; an error was made; fate decided otherwise; suddenly priorities altered, and so on. On a binary scale, the nearling is situated between zero and one, between failure and success. You only recognise a nearling in retrospect. 

You can be proud of nearlings, because:

You started something and took the initiative

You may have moved others

It may have led you to something that was successful

You need many nearlings, for a few successes

You learned from it

The nearling emphasises that initiatives are almost always valuable, even if they don’t lead immediately to the desired result. They may be the result of an experiment gone awry, or of something unexpected, yet something has been learned from it. 

Check out many examples on

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We apply the ‘nearling’ principle already in different situations. Take the situation where a kid is learning to ride a bike. At a certain moment, there’s a good chance that the kid will fall. Have you ever seen a parent that starts to scold their child when falling because it failed? Have you often seen the kid blaming the bike, the bumpy road, the strong wind coming from the East, … well, actually they do sometimes. The parent usually re-assures the child that falling is part of the learning process and — with a kiss on the knee — the child jumps on the bike again and starts over. That’s the nearling spirit.

You need nearlings to create learnings. You tried something with the best intentions, but the result was different than expected. Learn from it and start over. Wouldn’t it be great if we could apply the same energy in a business context?

A few of my personal nearlings & learnings

Nearling: The first edition of my second book. The format was just 3 millimeters too thick to fit in a normal envelope, and I had to use a postal package instead which cost a lot more.

Learning: For my new book, I’ve decided to use a standard magazine format.

Nearling: With a colleague, I printed 1000 business cards to promote a certain project (we even had a photoshoot done specially for it), but only distributed 5 of them because we came to the conclusion  that this side-project wasn’t working.

Learning: for my future projects, I’ll try them out first for a few months, and only then make a conscious decision whether or not it requires special promotion tools.


Nearling: I flew to Singapore for a three-day conference and wanted to save on expenses. I decided to arrive at the last minute. My energy levels were only at 50% during the first two days due to jetlag.

Learning: the gains of being fully present (or at least a higher level of presence) is worth a lot more than the cost of a night in a hotel.

Nearling: I had to give a speech for a group of volunteers, but I didn’t inquire about their age. It appeared that the average age was 70. It forced me to improvise and translate my ‘examples’ into their worldview to get my message across.

Learning: my briefing meetings with the client are now a lot better prepared after that incident.

Nearling: my previous girlfriends.

Learning: they helped me to grow as a person and resulted in finding a woman I completely love and knowing how to love her (or at least have a well-intended shot at it :).