Friday, December 18, 2009

we learn more from failure than success.

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We learn wisdom from failure much more than success. We often discover what we will do, by finding out what we will not do.
Samuel Smiles

20 comments:

Wavianarts said...

I posted this quote on my Facebook page and a lot of great comments ensued, posting them below (anonymously) to share.

Anonymous said...

There is a big difference between a noble failure and a dismal failure! I aspire to be a noble failure myself. Success is just too passe.

Anonymous said...

The silver lining to failure. Now I can go to an interview and say, "For the past 30 years I've been busy making myself extremely interesting."

Anonymous said...

There's a highly-respected management book that would go along with this theme -- "Failing Forward," by John C. Maxwell. It's short, but quite good ... for both personal and work life.

Anonymous said...

I've always believed that it's okay to fail. It is not okay not to try.

Anonymous said...

You just reminded me of an interesting cultural difference. In my country (UK) failure of a business venture is seen as a black mark by venture capitalists, and they don't want to risk money on that person any more. Over here, a business failure is seen as a QUALIFICATION, since it demonstrates that you've been through the mill and learned ... some important lessons. Of course, I'm sure it's sheer coincidence that the US has become the richest country in the world and Britain is completely useless at exploiting its inventions commercially.

Anonymous said...

I didn't ever think of this as a U.S. thing, but I did observe a friend's father in business, how he started like 9 businesses, one folded right after the other until #9 succeeded wildly.

I always felt like this was a great example of perseverance. That guy could have said, after business #3 or #5 failed, "Gee, I guess I'm just not cut out for ... See!" and given up. But he didn't take it personally. Instead, he learned from it.

This is why I think perseverance is the key to success. Sure, you need resources & support, some contacts and some luck but it's important to not let failure get you down. Like someone already said, it's the trying that counts.

Anonymous said...

It is true that failure is sometimes success that gave up too soon. Bit, to quote despair.com: "Quitters never win, winners never quit, but those who never win AND never quit are idiots."

Anonymous said...

It's interesting, anonymous, that you saw this from a cultural perspective. I actually did, too, but not a US versus other countries thing - it's the mindset I found in NYC when I lived there and there seem to be lots of areas in the US where a failure is seen as something horrible, something to be avoided at all costs, even at the cost of never trying.

Anonymous said...

That's interesting. I often forget what a varied country this is! My only real experience of doing business in the US is on the West Coast, but the optimism in the Bay Area is quite freaky (as are most things in Silicon Valley!) and may not be very representative.

Anonymous said...

I've certainly never encountered among U.S. citizens a pervasive acceptance of failure -- in fact, in my experience, the effort to avoid failure at all costs (even to the point of refusing to accept any responsibility for your behavior so as to blame someone else for a failure) begins extremely early in the U.S. and is very intense. Parents will ... even go so far as to kill other children in order that their child not fail (cheerleading mom news stories come to mind). In sports teams & school during the past years of my son's elementary school career, virtually every situation has involved people engaging in a wide variety of nefarious and mean conduct so that their child could have something -- because to not have it would indicate failure of some sort. Kids cheat routinely in school, and threaten other kids who try not to let them cheat off them. Businesses engage in deceptive and dodgy accounting practices to appear to be successful (Enron and its ilk come to mind, as too, the mortgage broker companies). Even so minor a failure as not getting into a certain spot in traffic results in all sorts of abuse and crazy risks in order to avoid that failure. There are many more examples. From what I've seen, acceptance of failure, let alone embracing it as a method by which to move forward, is virtually unheard of in the U.S., at least outside of management and self-help books. Okay, and possibly the Bay Area.

Anonymous said...

Kill other children? Yikes! What was that story?

For my part I was specifically talking about failure in the eyes of venture capitalists - I'm not suggesting there's anything noble or necessarily general about that because I've learned that businessmen are 100% self-interested. In this case (at least during my time in business, up to the burst of the dotcom bubble) US VCs clearly thought it was in their interests to see business failures in a forgiving light - as a qualification. By contrast, British VCs are traditionally conservative, risk-averse and meddling, and it was one strike and you're out. I'm sure that's part of the reason high-tech industries did so much better here than in my own land.

But in the everyday world I've certainly noticed what you say. Watching junior ballgames with my step-kids completely blew my mind - all these men screaming abuse at other people's children to put them off, and coaches encouraging dirty play. It's not a good sign. And I didn't like the pressure the children were under and the focus on extrinsic motivation. They were being taught that the end justifies the means. So I hear what you're saying....

Anonymous said...

Yes, I've certainly noticed that people are more willing to tolerate business "failures" than personal "failures" but no matter the realm, or the prevailing attitudes, I stand by my belief. After all, if kids learned that they can fail in sports and still be valued, lose a cheerleading spot and not have your life be over because of it, fail a test... and learn lessons from that ... if more people believed that it's good to try and okay to fail ... we'd all be better off, I think. I even extend this to relationships, though I know most people don't. Just because a relationship ends doesn't mean it was a failure. Most of our romantic relationships end, but many of them were successful in important ways, even if they didn't last forever. Or am I just Pollyanna'ish? :)

Anonymous said...

There's nothing wrong with being a Pollyanna - great trick if you can do it. I agree - if we learn to see failure as part of growth and a proof that we've stretched ourselves it makes life so much better.

I used to be very shy, and when I [had to do public speaking], I plucked up the courage to visit a hypnotherapist, and she told me to see failure as growth, to take risks, learn from my mistakes and then let them go. She changed my life. Before that I could die from embarrassment remembering trivial mistakes I'd made years before, but after that I was more able to embrace life. I still can't do it nearly as much as I should, and perhaps not nearly as much as most people do naturally, but I'm so grateful to her. I'd certainly never have coped with the past few years without that help. And I appreciate what you said about relationships too - that's pretty meaningful to me right now.

So yes, let's hear it for failure! I think you're completely right.

Anonymous said...

I agree as well. Although we were discussing whether or not most people recognize the value of failure -- which I think they do not -- I think it's a good idea. I wholeheartedly endorse your stance, S2. I have never viewed the end of my relationships as failure -- they were always learning experiences. And in most cases, I have found direct correlation between my workplace "failures" and terrific opportunities that opened up because of them. There are many layers to the concept, though it is a good one.

One aspect that concerns me is that there is starting to be some lip service paid to the concept, but because it is not fully endorsed or meant, it becomes meaningless in application. For example, our county soccer league insists on not keeping score in games so that the focus is not on winning and losing (or failing). Okay, perhaps that is a reasonable method for helping kids become more comfortable and relaxed about the idea of "win a few, lose a few." However, the county also ranks the teams at the end of the season for the following season's league arrangements (which heavily impact who plays whom & the future wins or losses, and even the existence of the team). They do this ranking based on scores and number of losses. So, while they tell kids the scoring isn't occurring and losing doesn't matter, the truth is that they do track scores and it does matter -- and children quickly realize that. Being hypocritical about the concept of failure is frequently part of program efforts to make it less of a traumatic or polarizing event.

Also, most people are afraid of change because they are afraid of failing. A boss comes in and wants to make a change that would really make things more efficient. However, often what the employee hears is "She's changing the requirements I've learned how to do and have been meeting for a long time; what if I can't manage the new ones, or there's not enough work so she wants me to do something else I don't know how to do?" And so on. Often, people will remain in relationships -- and fight hard to do so -- even when they don't actually love the person or aren't getting what they need, or the other person is done so the relationship is basically over ... because they are afraid of change and of failure. When you put something of yourself into an endeavor, you feel as though you've failed if the goal you envisioned at the start of the endeavor isn't realized. But perhaps it was the wrong goal, the wrong endeavor, or the wrong partner. Perhaps you need to have the flexibility to shift the goal as circumstances shift -- much easier to do if you aren't thinking of not meeting the original goal as failing....

I recently read the following in a book called Failing Forward. Although it's written with business in mind, I think it is a great reminder in a funny way -- for pretty much everyone, in relationships or in work situations -- that staying with something in order to avoid accepting "failure" is ridiculous (not to mention that it often involves much more work than letting go or accepting change):

Anonymous said...

"The Top Ten Strategies for Dealing with a Dead Horse

1. Buy a stronger whip.
2. Change riders.
3. Appoint a committee to study the horse.
4. Appoint a team to revive the horse.
5. Send out a memo declaring the horse isn't really dead.
6. Hire a consultant (or counselor) to find "the real problem."
7. Harness several dead horses together for increased speed and efficiency.
8. Rewrite the standard definition of "live horse."
9. Declare the horse to be better and cheaper when dead.
10. Promote the dead horse to supervisory position.

There's really only one effective way to deal with the problem: when your horse is dead, for goodness' sake, dismount."

Change is a catalyst for personal growth -- gets you out of a rut, gives a fresh start, affords a chance to reevaluate your direction and goal. Failure is a type of change, and often occurs when you haven't been flexible enough to change with circumstances along the way. If you resist change, you're really resisting success. And if you look at failure as an actual failure, rather than as a serious opportunity for personal growth, fresh start, and new direction, you also resist success. Failure to use failure as an opportunity begets more failure.

Anonymous said...

I think that my life has been interesting.

Anonymous said...

I'd second that thought.

Anonymous said...

Yes, my life has certainly been interesting! Mostly because of the risks I've taken - some of which have resulted in failures - but which have taught me things AND often given me great stories to tell!

Anonymous, I enjoyed hearing about your experience with a hypnotherapist. I saw one several years ago for a bad case of stage fright I'd developed (not good when you're the lead in a play at the time) and she made a world of difference for me. Like you, I can't say that I have no stage fright at all, but I still act without that stopping me. In fact, I was so impressed, I became a certified hypnotist myself!

Another commenter, I think your point about fearing change is excellent. I think a lot of people fear change more than failure, but the combination can stop one cold. Maybe if we taught our kids that sometimes they will win, and sometimes they will fail, and that both have value, rather than pretending there *is* no failure, we could decrease that fear, at least. ...

And thanks, anon, for commenting that there's nothing wrong with being a Pollyana. Given the amount of suffering I deal with each day, if I *didn't* have that side to me, I don't think I'd be able to get out of bed each day.

Anonymous said...

I hope this quote and conversation make you view failure not as something lost but as a rich experience. It certainly seems like we are not alone. :)