Failure is just a refueling stop on the highway to success.
This week we want to talk about failure. Many of you will be heading for the end of the year feeling pretty good about what you’ve achieved. Others, not so much. So what do you do when you get to the end of the year and realise it’s been a bit of an epic failure? Fear not. It’s the beginning of something big.
Change the way you think about failure. Remember that failure and innovation go hand in hand. What makes the difference is whether you turn a fail into part of a cycle of continuous improvement – or a hard break with the whole process.
Falling down is only failure if you stay down. The synonyms for failure can be depressing: Disappointment, letdown, catastrophe, bomb, fiasco – all carry a strong message of culpability, that it was somehow your fault. We say, bollocks. None of us set out to fail. So step one is to reframe failure. That doesn’t mean you deny it, quite the opposite. Take responsibility for your failures. Take a hard look at why things went awry and break down the elements that contributed to things not working out so that you understand what happened. But view it like a gamer. When you play a game you don’t set out to mess up – but you do hit challenges, run into walls, get serious setbacks and find you’re in dead ends. You either stop playing or you work out what to do differently to progress. That, my friend, is how to view failure, as something to learn from to help you move forward to new levels. True failure – culpable and all yours – is when you refuse to learn.
Words are less than adequate and failure actually captures more than one type of outcome. Think of it as one umbrella for two big categories: unnecessary failure and challenging failure. Unnecessary failures are when you mess up through avoidable things like a lack of attention, skill or action – painful to learn from as you realise things could have been different. Challenging failure is when things don’t work out but you persevere by thinking about things differently or trying fresh approaches. At such times inspiration can help. A bit of Chicken Soup for the Soul perhaps? It’s the title of a book so famous you’ve probably heard of it. A collection of stories designed to help motivate people to push through tough times. One of the men behind it is Jack Canfield. Is own story is an exemplar: At age of 48-years, he and co-author, Mark Victor Hansen, set out to write their inspiring book. But things didn’t go to plan when they approached publishers. Over 14-months they got 144 rejections for their new book. One producer said it wouldn’t sell even 20,000 copies; Canfield replied that he hoped it would sell half a million copies at least. The publisher laughed.
Eventually, they convinced one small publisher in Florida that the book could become popular. How right they were. Chicken Soup for the Soul is now a phenomenally successful brand [the book became a series] that’s sold over 500 million copies in over 20 languages. We suspect at some point Canfield laughed. His determination not to give up became another story about what happens if you treat each ‘failure’ as a step you take to keep moving forward.
And now for something else
Did you know that December 14th is Ugly Christmas Jumper Day? Nor did we but apparently it is, the third Friday in December. Although the UK has more pressing issues, they are going for the 21st this year [Dec 1 was a Friday].
Launched in 2011, this geeky celebration is not only an excuse to parade your poor decision-making in seasonal knitwear. In some places it’s also a fundraising event for Save the Children. (Someone needs to warn Save the Children NZ.) Need inspiration? Google ‘Ugliest sweater ever made” and check out the images. The horror…the horror…
Still keen? ‘Course you are. You laugh at failure. Crawl into your best ugly cable knit liesurewear and learn like a demon. And remember the words of that wise chap who also failed before he became rather successful:
“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” Bill Gates.