Reflections on Failure


We Hate To Fail

There are all kinds of failures. Business failures. Job failures. Life failures. Design failures. Project failures. School failures. Sports failures. Relationship failures. When you look at the books on Amazon about failure (more than 6,000 paperbacks), many of them–maybe most of them–are about finding success through failure. I’ve even written about the importance of failure.

If failure is so good for you, how come we all try so hard not to fail?  How come so many of our decisions are made out of our fear of failure? It probably comes from some deep psychological cause.  When things are irrational–like fear of failure (usually) is–then it is hard to persuade someone out of it through the use of rational argument.  

My AhHa Moments This Week

I had a couple of ‘ah ha’ moments this week about failure, and thought I’d share them.

First of all, maybe we are too quick with the ‘FAILURE’ label.  Is a relationship a failure if you have 11 great years and 2 bad ones?  Is a project a failure because it doesn’t hit the initial guesses about time and budget, but it does actually delivered 80%+ of the desired results?   Is a design really a failure if you figure out what won’t work? Of if you learn something or decide something because of it that sets your life off on a new/better direction?  On this day when both Tiger and Kobe won, is losing for a period of time really failure if you’ve won more than just about anyone else? Maybe instead of seeing the fail, we should look for the success in every experience.

I made the second realization when I was thinking about how to teach people about organization change management and how it is critical to greasing the skids for bringing big projects in on time and with the stakeholders ready to take advantage of the tools and process changes and deliver the ROI.  It occurred to me that I know how and why Organization Change Management works so well because I’ve been on projects (prior to my tenure as an OCM practitioner) without OCM that failed.  By ‘failed,’ I mean that they didn’t deliver.  They got canceled.  I was on one that lasted three years once that delivered the requirements and got canceled!  I understand the value of OCM because I’ve seen projects without it, and they usually fail or don’t deliver in some very significant way.  I know that because I’ve had the experience of failure.  So when I present key decision makers with that information and with the statistics that support it, they frequently nod and seem to agree, but then when dollars get tight, they are ready to cut OCM first.  Why would they do that?  Because they haven’t had the experience of that failure.  They don’t really believe it because they haven’t internalized the kind of learning that I have.   They have to learn the lesson through their own failure.  Just like your kids have to learn from their own mistakes (they can’t learn from yours, no matter how much you wish they could). 

I’ll Say It Again

Haven’t the biggest lessons that you have learned come from failure or at least from significant adversity?  See, failure is a good thing.


Filed under Derailment, Success

2 responses to “Reflections on Failure

  1. Glenda Burgeson

    Failure is the best teacher, but only if we are willing to learn. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. skipprichard1

    Great post. Yes, I’ve learned more in adversity than ever during success. I look at failure as temporary, as a setback, but that doesn’t mean you leave it there. Keep going, and maybe that failure will turn into an ultimate success. You’ll look back at the “failed” label and realize that it was only part of the grander possibility.

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