When we think of failure, we believe there is something wrong. Therefore, it is the word and situation we avoid at all costs. Some of us will lie, cheat and steal to avoid failure. Yet, in many cases, failure can offer more knowledge, wisdom and riches than success.
In the simplest cases, Post It by 3M is an example of a failure. The inventor, Art Fry, was attempting to make the strongest glue. It wasn’t until a year after his supposed failure that someone within 3M figured out a practical use for his weak glue.
Learning from Failure
This example is the proverbial silver lining. However, if managed well, failure has tremendous benefits. If we can view failure from 3 distinct ways, it should cause us to adopt a new and empowering perspective. They are:
- Disrupts bad behavior – When we are successful, we believe our behavior is the winning formula, even when it is inappropriate or obsolete. Success can be the Achilles heel of an individual or corporation. Enron, Worldcom and Bernie Madoff are examples of the hubris that success breeds. Without their failures, many more people would have followed their footsteps.
While bad behavior does not always imply malfeasance, it is a great antidote if we are off course or closed minded to other perspectives. It disrupts the addictive behavior of wanting to be right. It humbles us and opens our mind to new possibilities and highlights inappropriate attitudes, products, services and behaviors.
When you need to adapt or DIE
Sony is an example of a company that learned quickly from its failure to innovate. Because they were successful at making the Walkman, they were not open to the possibility of an MP3 player making the Walkman obsolete.
- Increases determination – For those who do not become disheartened by failure, they find renewed strength and a new perspective from which to operate. If failure is well managed, it can help groups or teams reflect in order to identify what was missing and/or what was inappropriate. That kind of insight can galvanize groups to work together more effectively. In sports, there are countless cases where teams have come back from defeat.
- Creates new knowledge – From one perspective, failure tells us what not to do. From another, it lets us know when our existing knowledge has become obsolete and forces us to become more creative. If we manage failure well and our determination is increased, we think of new innovative ways to accomplish our goals. Whether it’s sports, chemistry or computer programming, our failures force us to open our minds and take new approaches. Michael Jordan’s failed attempt to make the basketball team in high school gave him the impetus to be an extraordinary player. While it is impossible to say he would have been the same player if he would not have been cut, it is safe to say it forced him to train in a new way.
Our failures require us to ask new questions which help us to make new discoveries. Those new questions have been the catalyst for the light bulb, phonograph, flights to the moon, automobiles and the assembly line. With each of those inventions we acquired new knowledge that led to other breakthroughs.
While failure seems like a bad word and the enemy of success, it is quite the opposite. Throughout history, it has been the precursor to the light at the end of the tunnel. To some, the 3 distinctions may seem like a variation of the same. For those who able to distinguish them, they will have access to the treasure failure conceals.