For an issue this universal, it's not surprising failure has been defined in many different ways. Disciplines other than business have highly refined definitions of failure. Engineering and chemistry, for example, have entire practices and analyses around precisely defined failures.
Let's start with an official definition, courtesy of Oxford Dictionaries online:
failure |fālyr|, noun
- lack of success: ‘an economic policy that is doomed to failure’, ‘the failures of his policies.’
- 1.1 an unsuccessful person, enterprise, or thing: ‘bad weather had resulted in crop failures’
- the omission of expected or required action: ‘their failure to comply with the basic rules’
- 2.1 a lack or deficiency of a desirable quality: ‘a failure of imagination’
- the action or state of not functioning: ‘symptoms of heart failure’, ‘an engine failure’
- 3.1 a sudden cessation of power.
- 3.2 the collapse of a business.
mid 17th century (originally as failer, in the senses ‘nonoccurrence’ and ‘cessation of supply’): from Anglo-Norman French failer for Old French faillir (see fail)1
This view suggests, right away, that failure is about ...