Failure is a starting point for success

Talk to any successful person about the things that changed their lives for the better, and I’ll wager in most cases, the things that changed their lives were major failure they overcame.

The ability to deal with failure is an essential requirement for success.

I can’t imagine a life that didn’t involve overcoming failure. Everything I have done has basically involved taking a course of action and pushing it until I failed to go any further. I would either get smarter and succeed, or I would learn enough that I could see that I didn’t have the resources to succeed in a time frame that was useful.

Failure is the mechanism that lets us know what the limits of our ability are in some area. Failure isn’t shameful, unless you were raised to think that being right was more important than achieving anything worthwhile.

There are careers like engineering design, programming, and marketing which are basically processes for overcoming one failure after another. If you are creating or doing something new, it is almost axiomatic that you will take more than one try to get it right.

The only occupations where failure is not expected is where you are replacing a machine, as in turning out french fries at a fast food restaurant, or wiping off cars at a car wash.

That’s why I snorted when I read Ana’s account of a 2-day leadership seminar at her workplace which ground to a stop when she brought up the issue of failure.

The seminar had already discussed failure in terms of OTHER people having a problem admitting failure. But when she tried to talk about the possibility of the people in the room having to deal with failure at some point during their careers, everyone looked at her like she was mad.

She had merely asked the lunchtime speaker: Have you ever failed along the way? How do you deal with failure?

The room got very quiet as if she’d said a bad word and basically no one wanted to talk about it. Read the full post. It is quite thought-provoking.

My take on it was simple. The fact that the speaker was unable to confront the subject spoke worlds about his lack of qualifications. When people are willing to discuss only best-case scenarios, it sends a strong signal that they have little experience of real value. They are unable to deal with failure and essentially run away from it and any mention of it.

We won’t discuss those who brandish their failures as evidence that society has given them a raw deal. These are victims using their failures to punish others. We won’t even go there.

Dealing with failure is what life is all about.

Learn from your failures and go on. Your failures are a sign that you tried something that required information or resources that you didn’t have. Better preparation might have avoided the failure, but the big thing to remember is you can learn from your failures. After experiencing enough failure and surviving, you become almost invincible. 🙂

If you develop the right frame of mind, failure is just another obstacle to anticipate and overcome. When that happens, you may find those "insurmountable barriers" melting away before your headlong charge, while others are holding themselves back so as to avoid any possibility of failure.

The risk of possible failure is enough to stop many people from ever using their full potentialities. Don’t be one of these people. Plan for success and do enough preparation to minimize the risk of failure. Have a Plan B in mind in case Plan A doesn’t work out. If A and B don’t work out, learn from that, regroup and continue on.

I’m not saying it is easy to overcome failure, only that it is absolutely necessary for you to do so.

I would appreciate your observations on this.

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0 Responses to Failure is a starting point for success

  1. Frank Martin says:

    One of my key interview questions for new staff is ” How and when have you failed in your career?”

    If they are on the right page, they give a great war story about how they failed at some point in the past. I then ask them what they learned from it, and they go into detail on what that experience meant to them.

    If they are on the wrong page, they give some smokeblowing answer like ” I failed to work hard enough” or some semi heroic sounding thing,which exposes them for the fraud they are.

    Asking about a failure is what separates a good solid candidate from a smokeblower. Its the look in the eyes that gives them away, theres no mistaking it.

    Success doesn’t grow just anywhere or by accident, its born on the soil fertilized with a thousand screwups and half-assed attempts, it cannot thrive without it. Anyone who says they have never failed before is either a one hit wonder or a fraud. In either case, they are not useful to the enterprise. What every enterprise needs is experience. Experience comes from trying different things,stretching the envelope and experimentation and trying to expand what can be done and that inevitably leads to failure. Success comes only from not stopping despite the failure.

    It’s the persistance in the face of failure that marks the difference between barely adequate and great employees.

  2. Andreas says:

    Absolutely agree. But we are not “trained” to deal with failure – from early childhood onwards, we hear that we must succeed. In school, when you fail, you don’t make you grades. In a job, well, it is said that if you fail, you are fired (look at the Apprehentice).

    It is dangerous to fail today. Admittingly, there are two levels of failure as well – those that can be grave and those that are easier to manage.

    So what needs to be done is to take away the stigma of failure and allow failures. But we also need control processes in place to avoid the really bad failures. Like those of MCI, Enron etc.

  3. IB Bill says:

    Good post. I’m on Plan Z!

    I was blessed to have a job and a boss for six years where making mistakes was expected. Never held against us, as long as you learned and grew. Which not surprisingly happened.

  4. People would look at me like I was crazy for rejoicing when I found something wrong in a system. It gave me a rush not only because I enjoyed diagnostics and problem solving, but because I knew that each error we found and fixed brought us one step closer to perfecting the system. And in time, of course, we did.

    You can’t inspect quality into a product … you engineer it to come out that way, which means perfecting the system.

    Then, your subordinates can monitor the key points while you look for new areas of improvement. Do this long enough and the company’s bottom line does your bragging for you every time someone looks at a statement.

  5. andy says:

    I’m reminded of an incident a few years back at a workshop aimed at improving customer service. The question was asked: “What stands in the way of your giving excellent customer service?” All the predictable answers came up: the IT systems, lack of budget, the management etc etc. When I answered “The belief that we already *are* giving excellent service” I was met with blank, uncomprehending looks. It seemed their minds just couldn’t hold the notion that, just maybe, we weren’t all already perfect.

    Maybe the idea of embracing and working with our imperfections – which after all are as much a part what make us human as anything else – was just too difficult; it was easier to deal in external things like systems and budgets. Maybe it was too frightening. But by putting up a fence across those thought-pathways they’d shut off access to a whole world of possibility.

    Three years later that branch of the organisation didn’t exist any more.

  6. Great post and comments.

    When I went to work for IBM years ago I was taught that we would not be fired for failure – our mistakes were the company’s investment in our experience. Of course we were expected to learn from our mistakes.

    We all experience failures but it is a very different thing to consider yourself a failure. And we may be lucky to have done something perfectly, but who can live under the weight of needing to be perfekt?

  7. Jeremy says:

    There’s a book published in Malaysia under the title “Dare to Fail”.

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