It’s time to re-frame failure. To avoid the word, people have tried to soften it by calling it a setback, major disruption, mistake, error in judgment, etc. Use whatever word you like, it isn’t the word that is the problem, but how you interpret it, or personalize it. The stories below are examples of how famous people have turned failure into success.
Thomas Edison: As a young boy, teachers wrote him off as someone who was unable to learn. He was fired from his first two jobs for not being productive. He found his niche as an inventor, after 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb, 1,001 was a winner!
Bill Gates was a Harvard University dropout and co-owner of a failed business called Traf-O-Data. He was passionate about computer programming and built Microsoft, the world’s largest software company. Microsoft went public in 1986, and by 1987 Gates became the world’s youngest self-made billionaire.
What these individuals have in common is that they didn’t consider themselves as failures. They saw each step as a learning opportunity, that brought them closer to their goal. They learned from their failures until they succeeded.
Nine out of 10 small businesses fail. Seasoned entrepreneurs encourage new entrepreneurs to fail often and fast. Why? This mindset helps entrepreneurs learn from failure to improve their service or product.
Why are we afraid of failure?
We can take failure personally by tying it to our talents and worth because we have been conditioned for success throughout our lives, for example:
- When we were young, we were encouraged to do well in school and pass each grade. Passing a course or a grade is associated with success in life.
- In sports, usually only the top three competitors are rewarded for their success.
- There is competition to get into elite career programs. Getting into an elite program is an indicator of success, status, and the best of the best.
- We need to compete successfully to get a job.
All of these reinforce success and avoidance of failure.
Columbia University’s Teacher’s College is studying failure through its research centre. The research centre is helping students understand that failure is a normal part of learning that leads to success. This 2016 study, of 400+ grade 9 and 10 students, found that students thought they needed to have a natural ability to be successful. This thinking is a problem for students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics because they would give up and drop out if they struggled in class or failed a test.
The researchers normalized failure by sharing stories about the struggles inventors and scientists faced before they succeeded. As as result of hearing the stories, science grades improved. Marks dropped for students that only learned about success . The takeaway from this study is that failure is normal when you are learning or doing something new, and it is important to understand, learn where you failed, and do better the next time.
Make peace with failure and move on. You might need to feel bad about it in order to make peace with it, but don’t let it drag on, find a way to get the discouragement out of your head. Vent, journal, or do what helps you clear you head and gain perspective. Consider what happened, what you learned, and what you would do differently next time.
Taking action will help you move on. It will also help keep you from rolling it over and over in your mind. Re-frame it as a learning and growing opportunity.
It’s a bad idea. Knowing when it is a bad idea is important so that you don’t waste time or money on it. Test out the idea, look at it from different angles, read up on it, check if it has been done before, talk to experts, learn from the mistakes of others. Take small steps to get some small wins, build confidence, and move towards your goal.
Develop a growth mindset. Carol Dweck, a psychologist and author talks about a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset.
- The fixed mindset sees talents and abilities as things we’re born with, so when we fail, it becomes a reflection of who we are.
- The growth mindset is where we keep learning. Dweck’s research found that those with a growth mindset achieve more over the long term.
Continuously Improve.Learn from industry, manufacturing, and health. These sectors have taken the lead to promote a culture of safety by learning from their failures to improve products and outcomes. They’ve re-framed failure as quality improvement.
- The airline industry is a great example of learning from failure. When an airplane crashes, there is a thorough analysis that goes into identifying and learning what caused the crash and preventing future crashes. This analysis requires openness, patience, curiosity, and a tolerance for ambiguity. It has resulted in improved airline safety worldwide.
- The car manufacturing industry focuses on quality management and continuous improvement, to make their cars safer.
- Hospitals review deaths and adverse incidents to improve future outcomes by identifying the root cause and system issues involved.
Plan for roadblocks and barriers. Plan and manage your risk(s) when they arise to overcome roadblocks or barriers.
Celebrate wins .This will motivate you to keep going.
Focus on what you can control. Take action to improve the things you can.
Success and failure are a part of a continuum. The same qualities that causes someone to be successful can cause them to fail.
Industry is leading the way to learn from failure. They are re-framing failures as opportunities to improve safety and outcomes.
We can learn from industry to normalize failure, to use it to improve what we are doing, and see it as a step closer to success.
What about you? What will most help you get back on track after a failure or setback?
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