The Importance of Failure and Self-Management for Business
A small reflection about the Importance of failure in life and 7 ways how to manage that.
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. Thomas Alva Edison.
I have been thinking for a while in the concept of failure and its implications in life, both personal and professional and in business. Most of the success comes from trying and although failure is hard you cannot improve without trying and error. Most of businesses fail because they don’t plan correctly and don’t plan, process and manage their issues.
Failure is about something that did not go well. For business owners failure is part of life as part of businesses fail. The important is how do you come from failure and and move forward. To have a heart failure is ultimately serious, perhaps lethal but in the end the most terrible thing you can experience is to have a life failure.
We live in a world that we can define as a short attention span society. By attention span I mean the amount of time someone can concentrate on a task without becoming distracted and move away without producing. Although some authors, such as Neil Postman in his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, believe that the attention span of humans is decreasing as modern technology, especially television, and the web increases I disagree, in effect although the sources of distraction are bigger than ever, on the other hand there are as well more ways of being productive and do a good management of time. Web and technologies can be both a distraction or tools to organize and improve our lives and work methodologies. Ultimately what matters is our capacity to shift from some wrong or negative behavior towards new ways of living better and getting focus in what is important. The same goes for the perception of what is risk taker and what is secure. The path that drives someone to failure can be seen as a tragic fatality or as learning lesson (the 10,000 ways that don’t work of Edison).
Passionate by this theme I have been thinking for a long time in this and researching in some key areas how failure impacts my life, my work, my projects, my relations and others. Also In this reflection I have understood ( I have to admit most of the times painfully) that some of my best achievements came most of the times from failure projects or ideas (or ways that did not worked). Thus this text that goes through 7 fast points of reflection where I go through the importance of failure – the feared and terrible experience and concept – perhaps the most thought-provoking theme to read in the present landscape of short attention span and obsession by perfection, success…
1. In a short attention span world, Failure is perhaps the most thought-provoking theme!
In a complex time when civilization is reviving itself into a pathologically continuous re-adaptation and disorder(s) of a sort of a short attention span world, failure is perhaps the most thought-provoking theme to look seriously. Why? Picking the tweet of Tim Cohn with the sentence of Bill Gates: “In China, when you’re one-in-a-million, there are 1,300 other people just like you” one needs to question and redefine the real meaning of success. To have impact or success in a world with 6 billion persons it is about have some kind of voice (and probably some lucidity) once you are living in the short attention span present. And in fact success is very relative according to country, continent or cultural background.
Success has within its DNA some failure markings, just look at the sentence of Edison, in the beginning, one of the more important and prolific inventors and business men of all time. Those who had the most opportunities in life had the most misses and failures (trust me).
The key and all what needs to be done in order to move forward is to demystify failure. Then to be able to turn failure into a fertilizer, into a field for running the seed into success, using an old metaphor. Failure is not an end result, never a destination but must be a departing point, a positive feedback, even when it become really negative, where we risked too much and by some given reason it went wrong. Thus an important thought-provoking area of analysis, a break through which should allows us or let us start afresh more careful next time whenever we try again. And one need always to try again.
2. In a global landscape the important is about having a voice and if you keep it honest your failure will be just one way that did not work!
The most potent muse of all is our inner child. Stephen Nachmanovitch.
What is the most important thing to consider in the way one lives? Well there are a lot. First no man is a country, and countries are becoming worthless in a global landscape in continue evolution. The borders of tomorrow may not be the same tomorrow. And in this global landscape the important is about having a voice, a personality that is alive along all the noise. And to have a voice means to have a vision, thus to believe. But to believe in a given vision it implies an effort to try new ideas or to accept projects and put them alive. That is in no way easy, it implies to try hard, and when you try, trust me, you will manage to get what you want (at least most of the times if you really try), but you will, that I am 100% sure, fail. Failure refers to the state or condition of not meeting a desirable or intended objective in the process of living (in a given moment , in a relation or in a project), and maybe viewed as the opposite of the meta-concept of success. And bear in mind you cannot be an island as well, ultimately you can be part of a small chain or cluster of islands that are formed tectonically: a archipelago.
One lives in a society that is terrified with not achieving; we live in a capitalist world where everyone fears failure. But paradoxically this need of achieving most of the times material things is most of the times artificial. To sum up the most important breakthroughs and achievements depend on being real and looking at reality of each one of us, even when it hurts. The best people minds ideas and actions, even the companies’ best projects and sometimes almost best moves depend of the way they embrace, look at their mistakes, the way they look and adapt to the “terrified” failure, and the way one / they learn from the feared failure.
3. The trends that accelerate the rhythm of mankind depend of the management of failure.
Think for a while what holds you back: personally, professionally or as member of an organization, a citizen? Some statistics say that eighty percent of growth strategies fail. Only 20 percent of all growth strategies succeed . This startling statistics ( I would be even more radical, probably just 10 or 5% of success, depending on the projects) applies to management of new projects, product or expanding into a new market, as well as involvement in mergers, acquisitions, and joint ventures.
This all means that if you have had a degree of success in your current business, you’re one of the lucky few who actually succeed. And I can bet that part of that success was the result of your management with previous experiences of failure.
The trends that accelerate the rhythm of mankind are made of ideas and the way they are implemented in technology. And in the short-horizon perspective of ideas-innovation-market-technology-consumer-believe driven economics, the next-election perspective of democracies, or the distractions of personal multi-tasking depends of the management of attention and failure. History is a paradox blind and repetitive machine of time where the archaeologies of culture and its tissues / layers of stories and different narratives are made of storytelling of people succeeding and failing.
4. Discussing and taking lessons from failures is what turns adversity to advantage.
When you fail do you just sit back or do you analyse what happened and think about changing something? This is for me the keystone to one´s life, relations or project. I have been reflecting on this. One needs some sort of balancing, get out of the non human corrective absolute obsession for the perfection equivalent to short-sightedness. One needs some positive mechanism or based of quoted myth which encourages the long view and the taking of long-term responsibility, where ‘long-term’ is measured within the balance of perfection and imperfection. What succeeds and what fails?
If you do things you will see some failures as you take more risks, but this indeed is the ultimate goal, that must be accepted as part of any success or regeneration process.
Embracing failure as a process of trial and error is key. One lives in an age of eternal beta! Anything needs to be tested in eternal, starting by each one of ours believes!
I agree with Stefan H. Thomke, a professor at Harvard Business School and author of Experimentation Matters, when he says to business groups, “I try to be provocative and say: ‘Failure is not a bad thing.’ I always have lots of people staring at me, [thinking] ‘Have you lost your mind?’ That’s O.K. It gets their attention. [Failure] is so important to the experimental process.”
In an economy that ostracizes failure. You are outcast when you are fired or when you lose some material advantage. The important in here is that the most adapted you are to failure the best you will be prepared to deal with that. And we live, (probably we always lived) in ages of black swans. So the best is to be candid about the potential for failure and do not be afraid of some risk-taking that any life needs to manage some innovation.
This comes with a strong warning: It’s never going to be an easy shift. After years of doing same habits, some things, to change, to “fail”, comes with a lot of scars and insecurity. The way to leverage and manage this is to heighten expectations by filtering on individual relations, optimise oneself performance. That is ultimately due to the difficulty in change the reason why it’s easy to opt to play it safe in some kind of routine. But the effort needs to be in the balance between manage risk taking, be prepared to fail and at the same time have one part of our behavior that is wise and plays safe.
5. Explore, experiment, fail but do it fast, learn and don’t repeat it.
Any company in order to succeed only achieves that through breakthrough innovation. That is the same for each one of us we need to be prepared to change. That is an imperative in today’s globally competitive markets world, in which product and business cycles are demander and shorter than ever. Innovation and success requires well-honed and prepared people and organizations. You have to have a dna built for efficiency and speed to mutate and be ready for changing when something feels unnatural (is outdated). So the important is to acquire methodologies of exploring, experimenting, even sometimes be prepared to foul up. Then repeat, but make sure you do it fast and do not fail again in the same issues.
But the intelligent failures are those that happen early and unexpensively and that contribute with new insights about yourself, your products, customers, ultimately for new business opportunities (sometime new careers) are the ones that should be more than just tolerable. I would dare to say they are key. So they should be somehow wisely encouraged.
The challenge is how to figure out how to master this process of failing fast and failing “cheap” and fumbling toward success. People and companies have to get good at this.
“Getting good” at “getting ready” to manage failure, however, doesn’t mean creating anarchy out of your life or a giving organization. It means me, you, leaders need to create some space in the process, methodology, business environments for safe and experimental taking risks, of course sharing stories of their own mistakes with peers, inside organizations, formulating the need to adapt and change as a living style or corporate culture. It means bringing in new elements for our daily lives, bring outsiders unattached to a project’s past. Ultimately is about to be prepared to open new doors to new ideas, mutation and always mange a strong communication. It means carving out the necessary time to reflect on what is or provokes (provoked) failure, what went wrong or can be wrong.
And this is not just for corporations but ultimately to any person in their own lives. This process of being open to explore, experiment, change and fail – fast – and always learn with it!
6. The here and now, the way I do it and the way you do it means different things to people in different cultures. Failure for me maybe is not a failure for you!
Brian Eno said once upon moving to New York City, that he found that “here” and “now” meant “this room” and “this five minutes” as opposed to the larger here and longer now that he was used to in England and in Europe. This necessary cultural openness is key to the global world one lives. Trust me what north of Europe tolerates or the way it behaves is completely different in South of Europe and I am not even talking about China (and you have totally opposite cultural backgrounds in China. This also continues if you go to different parts of India, Japan, South America… Somehow people are conservative by nature once it is the best way to deal with destiny the fate of the old Greeks. Thought the best you can do with your life is to be open, to new ideas and cultures. Independent of living in most open and less open cycles, multi-cultural diversity and learning process is key to the success on any individual, corporation or country. Trust me the more open and respectable one is towards others, their cultures, differences the better you will deal with change and failure. And this is the most important fact to present success and dealing with failure.
7. The most essential ingredient of success is how you manage failure… and fear.
Fear is by far the biggest enemy of any given person, organization and country. Fear destroys hope and implodes believes. So the best you have to do is to deal with fear. And start now, don’t wait. What are you more afraid? Why? Why do you repeat some negative behaviors? Why do you runaway from something, someone? Understand that and manage to get some lucidity on it and you will succeed. Once one does this failure will start being a familiar process and not a terrible curse. Some other 7 more personal ideas to think about that have been helping me:
- Understand your needs, desires and personality first of all;
- Set clear goals and objectives, and write them out, read it very often and rewrite, adapt them from time to time;
- Developing a behavior program around your goals and needs, what is really important;
- Be consistent with your real goals not other people advice/s, remember you just live your life;
- Listen, continually learn and be prepared to evolve around your own program and its failures;
- Adapt and mutate but don’t (never) sacrifice your core values, in the end it is what you get! This being consistent with your promise, goals;
- Never wait for perfection to come before you deliver the basics and do focus on delivering!
What does it mean to be human and alive? I believe one of the most essential ingredients of success is failure. My biggest achievements always came when I pushed my own boundaries and fought my fears. When faced with failure and trust me I failed and a lot of times, I always realized what was indeed important and then moved forward to much bigger achievements and realisation. Failure is part of success irrespective of one’s perspective. Human beings, all of us, should learn to accommodate some levels / layers of failure and pick from the failure essential lessons which could effectively reposition the person or the organization. Ultimately more dangerous than having a heart failure, that is ultimately the most terrible issue that can terminate physically your life, is to have a total life failure. So do something about it! And start now!
If you want to increase your succes rate, double your failure rate. Thomas J.Watson.
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