No one likes to fail. Failure feels like losing. But failure is more generous than we might think. Failure gives experience to those who try and offers wisdom to those who will try next. Failure fuels our quest for something better. It is the hunger that drives our discontent. Failure is the engine of innovation.
It is said that when Alexander the Great reached the sea he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer. Failure reveals the next world to conquer. Isn’t it time we learn to leverage our failures? What can we do to make the most of our mess?
No one wants to hear the play-by-play of how I beat my 8-year old son at basketball. Clearly we are unevenly matched. The stories we love to hear are the ones where the hero faces a worthy opponent. The Batman has Joker. Sherlock Holmes has Professor Moriarty. Sheldon Cooper has Star Trek’s Will Wheaton! Rarely does our hero win the first battle, but we tell the story anyway. We elevate our enemy so when victory is assured our hero’s story becomes even more epic.
Failure is the arch-nemesis in your story of success. Honor it. Make it part of your story. Remind people of the time you lost and use that example to elevate the significance of your struggle and the valor of your victory.
WATCH & LEARN
Failure with your eyes wide shut is a waste of experience. Blind failure is what happens when we stumble about without passion or purpose. It is the result of too much pride or too little vision. Pick a path. Test the fences. Make a choice. Move forward. When you fail, own it. Take notes. Better yet, take pictures and hang those pictures where you can see them. Examine your failure. Make failure a case study for what needs to change. Purpose and passion tempered with wisdom and experience become the hardened steal on which legacies are built.
FAIL LIKE WATER, GET BACK UP
Persistence is a powerful tool. Water is persistent. It breaks down seals. It rusts metal. It carves mountains. It reshapes shorelines. Water is relentless. It flows. It becomes the cup that contains it. It spreads out until it finds the limits of its reach and only settles after it has no place left to flow and nothing left to give. Learn to fail like water. Keep moving and reshaping until you have nothing left to give – and then give a little more. Be relentless. The ones on top aren’t there because they performed flawlessly. They lead the pack because when they fell down, they got back up.
DO IT AGAIN – ONLY DIFFERENTLY THIS TIME
In business if an employee makes a $100,000 mistake you fire them. Problem solved, right? Not if they are the right kind of employee. When you fire the right kind of employee for making the wrong kind of decision, you’ve just given $100,000 worth of the best training ever to the next company they will work for, potentially your competition.
Music is a combination of melody, harmony, and rhythm. No matter what you play, when you miss a note the next measure is still coming. Stop playing and you stop the song. There will be time to examine your mistakes and celebrate your victories once the song is complete, but don’t stop the music till the song is done.
In an unbelievably good game a pitcher will throw a minimum of 81 pitches. Whether you throw a strike, a ball or if the batter knocks it out of the park there’s another inning coming. Baseball games are won one pitch, one at bat, one run at a time. Throw the ball. If it doesn’t land where you want throw it again, only differently this time. Minor changes make a big difference. Keep throwing till the game is over.
PRACTICE LIKE YOU PLAY
Repetition is a powerful tool. Make certain you repeat the right things. Practice is the systematic process of overcoming a series of small failures. As you learn to get things right practice reinforces right behaviors. Make your practice worthy of your play. Olympic athletes train for years to compete against the best in the world at what they do. Their practice reshapes their mind, body and reflexes. Every day they make minor adjustments. These adjustments allow them to overcome deficiencies and reinforce the habits that become their signature for winning. When the challenge finally comes their body simply responds. It’s not effortless. It’s not thoughtless. It’s practiced. And that which is impossible to most becomes the world record setting performance that inspires nations. Repetition is a powerful tool. Make certain you repeat the right things.