Success is about learning to deal with failures – Part 1

by smartamarketing

Part of a Discussion started by Dr. Brian Monger

Brian Monger LinkedIn Profile –

Success and Failure Discussion – The Harvard Business Review group on LinkedIn


Aditya Madiraju • “Isn’t it time you learned how to treat failure differently? Isn’t it time you changed how you’ve been changing?” —

“Geeze this is not the plan I have invested in” – that is what I call failure. In general there are 4 types of failures — cognitive; social; financial and spiritual. In my experience the social failure that bites the most.

Dr. Brian Monger • If you are afraid to fail, don’t start?

Dr. Brian Monger • If you are afraid to fail – overcome your fear and start anyway?

Anthony M. • Thanks for the post Brian. The ideas around failure, what it means, how do we process it and can vs. should it be avoided are really interesting (there is similar discussion on the fourm and it’s insighful to see the diverse opinions and what it means for organisations)

There is a book by Michael Roberto called ‘Know What You Don’t Know – How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen’. In the book there is a chapter titled ‘Encouraging Useful Failure’ which explores this concept really well using case studies. In here it takes about what failure is important and the costs of culture that doesn’t deal with failure well.

‘Built to Last’ by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras also has some great discussion, with case studies, around this idea.

As someone once recently point out to me this ides is (or at the very least was) very popular in the ICT sector – where the mantra of silicon valley is ”Fail often, fail early, fail cheap”.

Someone once said to me the mantra of those who use failure

Dr. Brian Monger • Good comment. No-one knowingly sets out to fail.

Robert Pratt • My experience is full of failures as well as successes. I personally think a person can not really taste either, without having tasted the other. Probably, they last about the same amount of time. However, failure always seems to be eternal when it really is not.

The best way for me, (and I have to remind myself constantly) is to treat failure as a bad dream, and forget it as soon as I am awaken.

Anthony M. • What if by forgetting we also forget what we have to learn?

Robert Pratt • Is there a need to get burned twice to know what fire does? But, also there is also no need to be afraid of fire. Fire, has many uses and benefits. I do not know if I am making any sense. Failure = Fire. It has its good use, but if you stay to close for too long well, you will be well done. Same goes for failure if you let it stick to you, it will drag you down.

Anthony M. • Thanks Robert. We could be talking about two different things. I don’t find the idea of equating fire to failure helpful – it seems to imply we should be afraid of failure and try to avoid it because it is somehow painful, could lead to harm or other form of discomfort. If this was idea then progress and achievements made by people from James Dyson (5126 prototypes for his vacuum cleaner), Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Michael Jordon and many others wouldn’t never of happened. (See the link below – great list)

Maybe this is not what your saying though – are your implying we shouldn’t let our past failure be barriers to us achieving in the future. Don’t get bogged down in the past so to speak or let fear of failure adversley impact our future decisions? Or worse still choose to repeat our past mistakes not learning the right lessons from the first time.

Robert Pratt • Exactly to the second paragraph. I think of failure as a great teacher, but as students we should surpass the teacher. Learn from it, not dwell on it.

Aditya Madiraju • Brian, I think failure stems from 2 facts – not being upfront somewhere at the beginning and covering one lie with another. As long as these 2 are taken care of. I think failure is just a matter of “agreeing to disagree”.

We have to give the person the option to articulate their reasons. Only way to learn from mistakes.

Dr. Brian Monger • I think there is a phrase – success has many fathers while failure is an orphan

Aditya Madiraju • @Anthony, Many take waiting times as a proxy for failures. In my part of the world capital is such a scarce resource, people make ridiculous tradeoffs.

Hi Brian – I agree that is a popular saying most would have heard. The big question for each of us then is to we proscribe to it or do we own our failures. Even if it means we are the ‘only father’ so to speak.

Aditya Madiraju • Instead of going to Harvard AMP, they go to a less branded AMP 🙂

Dr. Brian Monger • I am always amused when reading the case studies of successful companies/people. Rarely tells us of the original plan, the many failures. I think most case studies are filled with lies really.

Dr. Brian Monger • If one studies battles, you will note that they rarely went to plan.

Anthony M. • If you look at the case studies in ‘Built to Last’ and ‘Good to Great’ they’re littered with the companies failures and there rarely is a grand methodical plan. More like a general idea followed by trying a whole pile of different stuff until they found what worked well.

Rashid Basheer • Success is learning to deal with failures, but to fall for the same mistake someone else has fallen for is not the right idea. We need to fall for new mistakes and failures so that the failure brings value to us. We neednt find something, others have already found. Learn and add value to the world, not merely learn.

Georgi Paleshnikov • Nice article, Brian.

Seems we are on the same wavelength on this issue. In another nice thread in this group, namely “Self confidence is it nature or nurture?” by Peter Gerlach, some of the followers, including me, express the same idea.

Failures are inherent in all spheres of human activities – both personal and professional. The way you deal with them determines your path in life.

We all speak mainly of successes and failures are not that much discussed, if they do not become a public issue, i.e. affect large groups of individuals. I think we would all agree that success is generally a chain of failures. Strangely though, our society rewards success and punishes failure as a rule. Isn’t this a peculiar paradox?

Georgi Paleshnikov • Success and failure are a strange though common duality, like good and bad, ugly – beautiful and many other things.

Just to finish my previous comment, I will cite an old Roman thought which says:

Ut vincas, disce pati, ut vivas, disce mori.

In order to win, learn to be patient, in order to live, learn how to die.

Everyone is free to make his conclusions.

Aditya Madiraju • @Rashid, in corporate world one can find fall guys. So at least experience provided has to be different even if the reason is similar.

Naela Blosh • we many not normally look upon failure as a good thing, but it is!! Of course, we don’t wish failure upon us , but if we do fail, there are just so many things that we can learn from it. Failures always teaches a person valuable life lessons. It prepares us better and makes us a more complete person. If we look back at our many failures, we would realize that had some of those failures not happened to us, many of the good things that subsequently happened wouldn’t have happened either. It is surprising that the thing that we thought at the time as the worst thing to have happened to us, turns up becoming the best thing .

Sanjib Chaudhuri • Whether it is success or faliure it is a judjement. its is matter of meeting some targetss/deadline. We are more concern about how otherss are viewing it.

So in my opinion ihoe we handle our critics is matter most otherwise most of us know to learn from our mistakes I repeat mistakes

Binod Atreya, Ph.D • How success is measured? For commercial organization it could be profitability. But at individual level, how we measure success? Is it a better situation than yesterday ? Is it the happiness? Learning from failures will shed on light to move forward positively. Individuals needs emerge once we satisfy the immediate ones. If the next need is not met, one could argue being unsuccessful. Therefore, what could be possible indicators for measuring success?

Georgi Paleshnikov • @ Binod Atreya: Good point, Binod!

Last year I came across something on the internet exactly on this issue. It could be interesting for this discussion. I am sorry for not being able to quote the source (I can’t quite remember where it was from), but here is a part of it:

[…] There is a dependence between the social-economic status of those, taking care of the kids, and the cognitive potential of those kids. People having low or middle level of social status have a quite different concept about the world. The IQ, a way to measure the intellectual potential, depends equally on both the genes and the circumstances, in which a child is being raised.

There exist several indications, characteristic of those who are “programmed” to be poor. Aptitude for regretting oneself – people susceptible to poverty, regret themselves and assume that they are not destined to be rich. Some people regret that they are not from the opposite gender, or that their figure is not perfect and this prevents them from getting the desired job. Some regret that they are not yet married, others – just the opposite. Self-regret is a means to anchor oneself to a certain position in life, it stops you on the way of personal development and thus eternal poverty is secured.

Greed – the drive to total cost-cutting and saving is not a sign of prudence but an indicator, that your income and expenses are not balanced and you try to solve the problem with the wrong tactics. When all your energy is concentrated on the search of promotions and discount sales, it is a sign that you possess the second feature of the poor. A person, programmed to be rich, is ready to pay the real price on things and services, and to reward generously his collaborators and employees, but expects the same from all the others.

It is often the case people work something they hate actually, no matter what, driving them in displeasure, just because they have to pay bills, loans or something alike.

These people are ready for the hardships of poverty and the cause of this are the feelings, driven from the necessity to do things, which are unpleasant for them.

The key point of escaping this habit of poverty is to do something not because you have to, but because it gives you satisfaction. This is the only way to improve yourself and achieve excellent results.

A “beggar” measures success only in terms of money. He is convinced that only owning a certain sum of money in the bank account could bring him happiness. Money has to make him happy because of the clothes he can afford, journeys around the world, independence of the partner, or indeed quitting the hateful job.

But practice shows that happiness never comes this way. A successful person measures happiness in different units than just monetary ones, and everyone decides for himself exactly which they are.

Calvin Wilson • Failure I believe is an imperative criteria or in a general /alternate term ‘experience’ which also coincidentally also projects its relevance to “success” – experience good or bad, success or failure has to come across ‘hands-on’, enabling us to learn, adapt, develop and apply strategies and efforts to ensure or minimize any repetition of past failures (experience) – learning is an infinite process.

Vangelis Vandoros • i think success is to learn to leave with wins or on the orher hand simply you can be a successfull loser just by learning to leave with your failures..just a simple thought.

Thomas Schildbach • I guess “try and error” is not a problem as long as the “error” is optimizing the number & quality of “tries” for reaching a target. Is the only success to reach a target or is it already successful to tune the “tries” and learn how to do this for future targets? Depends largely on the culture, the view angle and the individual satisfaction level, I would say. Some people say that the journey is the reward (and this is true, at least sometimes).

Dr. Brian Monger • Binod – success, personal or corporate is measured against definitions and objectives.  You define it, I can measure it.

Dr. Brian Monger • Trial and error is sort of OK. If you use some skills. Otherwise the error may well kill you. Actually or otherwise

Dr. Brian Monger • We try to manage so that the likelihood of success becomes greater.

If we do the planning (process) well then when we do stumble, we are better able to stand up again and continue

Rizvan M. Jaldeen PhD, CPM, MSLIM, MBA, FSSAM • Failure is also caused by some trying to reinvent the wheel. may be one can innovate the wheel but there is not need to invent it because its already there. Yes those who know how to deal with failures are the real managers / leaders

Managers who know how to deal with failure manage better and become better leaders. hosted a discussion on the same topic a few weeks ago.

Henry Obi Okwo some have alluded to, I have learned much more from failures than successes. If you are not failing enough, you are not challenging yourself to the max. How you react after failure is what counts the most. Risk and Failure go hand in hand, organizations should encourage employees to push beyond their comfort zones and take more risk without fear of failure.

Binod Atreya, Ph.D • @ Georgi and Dr. Brian: Yes, Georgi, you have touched the hearts and minds of millions people living in this world for those success means different things depending upon the situation and circumstances they are bound to live with. I agree with the last para people measures success in their own way.

Dr Brian, I agree with you that success can be measured against the definitions and objectives. Let me share an example of my own. Having a Ph.D degree was one of my objective and the day I was honored with the degree, I felt a great success in my career. Presently, the success for me could be different objectives and definitions and these go on changing once we move in our career. Do we measure success with the past?

Aditya Madiraju • Thanks Georgi for your comments.

Your comment – “There exist several indications, characteristic of those who are “programmed” to be poor. Aptitude for regretting oneself – people susceptible to poverty, regret themselves and assume that they are not destined to be rich.” really resonated well. I have found similar arguments in other Linkedin groups focused exclusively on Sales and discourse on Self-Confidence in this very group.

In the context of this discussion… I have to wonder if the attribution of failure is really because of “regretting”. Many people do use more exaggerated language many times…..

Dr. Kulbir Bhatti • Success is what we yearn for & failure is what makes us who we are today. As the famous quote by Francis Bacon goes-

“Prosperity discovers vice; adversity discovers virtue.”

To put it in the language of management-

“True success is Continuous Quality Improvement, taking failures as a feedback mechanism!”-

Thomas Schildbach • How can failure making & learning be turned into a success? Actually the basis is, that failure are allowed and are ok as long as you learn. Starts with a positive feedback…people receiving only negative feedback or comments for failures will try to avoid them or hide them in the future. A missed chance for development.

You observe this when you have kids..the processing of failures or negative scenarios makes them more experienced, self-confident, robust. Failure are simply an important factor for development.

Karthik Chinnasamy, MBA PMP • @Henri Obi – I think you are spot on Henri! How you react after failure determines what result it is going to give. One can decide to take it as a huge hit on their pride, their ability to succeed, etc., and go with fire on all cylinders to do whatever it takes to succeed. Or, there are a few who gets depressed, come to a conclusion that failure would be inevitable and do not take the risk of putting the efforts to be successful. Personal circumstances do matter, but at least one should constantly try and achieve smaller things by taking calculative risks rather than not trying at all due to the fear of failure.

Robert Pratt • It depends. If circumstances allow it, then the experience can be use it right away, and apply it from this point forward. Sometimes circumstances do not allow for immediate rework.

Aditya Madiraju • Analytically speaking Trial & Error is also known as Champion Challenger framework. Which when used effectively does create a platform to fail cost effectively. But I find very few takers for disciplined implementation.

S. Soner Selçuklu • I think learning from mistakes does not work well all the time, it is not a cost effective way to live your life. Also, we can’t know whether the alternative action would be the correct one. Countless alternative actions can exist. Plus, even if we promise ourselves that we won’t repeat the mistake, it is likely that we will make the same mistake again. On the other hand, using problem solving and thinking techniques that help to forsee potential consequences and learning from other’s mistakes and good experiences are actions that can help us to avoid failure.

Georgi Paleshnikov • @ Soner Selçuklu • You are quite right, Soner. Wise people learn from the mistakes of others, not from their own. That’s why history IMHO exists in the first place.

But world changes constantly, becomes more complex and thus more fragile. Plenty of room for new mistakes. Everyone prays it won’t be him. But after all, someone has to go the wrong way in order that another one finds the right one.

Dr. Brian Monger • Was it Eddison who said something like “I made 990 mistakes before inventing the light globe?

Dr. Kulbir Bhatti • A great point by Mr. Georgi & Dr. Brian here.

Just to simplify it a bit for novice minds like myself-

It is the virtue of successful people to learn from failures of others, BUT at the same time if the realm is an unexplored one, there are no lessons to learn from third-party failures!

In such a situation there is no other option than to be prepared to face the failures, learn from them. That’s how you deal with failures & eventually succeed.. just like Edison!

Georgi Paleshnikov • @ Brian & Kulbir: Excellent points!

When I said that “…someone has to go the wrong way in order that another one finds the right one” I did not exclude the option that this “another one” could be the person, who actually did the mistake. It depends on the way he deals with it.

If something does not kill you, it makes you stronger.

This is Part 1 of a very good, long Discussion.  More to come shortly.

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