Why Failure equals Success
“I can accept failure, but I can't accept not trying.” – Michael Jordan
What is failure? Is failure simply the opposite of winning? Or is failure something bigger and more meaningful?
I've always been in the camp that we learn the most when we fail. After all, if we try something once and it works, how do we know we didn't just get lucky? Failure, on the other hand, gives us instant feedback. We know right away what not to do again.
Yes, failure can be negative but if we view failure the correct way we can learn. When Thomas Edison was asked how it felt to fail 800 times before getting the light bulb correct he answered,
“I didn't fail once. I learned 800 times what didn't work.”
What Michael Jordan and Thomas Edison and Ryan Rhoten (yes I did just humbly lump myself in that group) are essentially saying is that our view of failure is all wrong as a society. We tend to look at failure as a negative rather than a positive.
Much like my previous posts on Leadership, failure can also be a noun or a verb. As a noun, it is descriptive of no action as in ” you are a failure”. If used as a verb with action failure can be the ultimate teacher as Thomas Edison stated. So in my humble opinion failure ultimately results in success and here are my top three reasons why.
Reason 1 – Failure is like a ladder
As a society, we associate failure with being on the bottom. The association is so strong that for some, the fear of failure keeps them from moving forward. However, how do you get to the top if you allow the fear of failure to paralyze you?
To move forward try looking at failure as a ladder with each rung being a learning process to get to the top. Some steps will be taken after successes but some will be taken after failures. Either way, we don’t stop moving forward. You've heard the phrase two steps forward, one step back? Even this method moves you closer towards the top.
With this in mind I ask, is it better to have tried something and failed, meaning you've taken action (verb) or is it better to sit back and do nothing? For me, failure is only bad if it used as a noun such as saying “I'm a failure.”
On the other hand, if we overcome the fear of failure and, at least, try to achieve something but did not reach our goal, such as “I tried and failed” we've turned the word from a noun to a verb because we took action. Isn't that always better than doing nothing? MJ seemed to think so.
Reason 2 – Learn from our Failures
The key to using failure to help us succeed is summarized in Thomas Edison’s quote. He learned 800 times what didn't work and he never gave up. Let me ask when you want to achieve something do you give up after the first failure and say “well that must not be for me?”.
If you do then we are back to being a noun. If instead you look at the failure as a learning opportunity and ask yourself how can you do better next time, you are putting your failure back into action.
All of the great inventors, innovators or athletes achieve their success because they understand that failures provide us insight into what doesn't work. Sure they may have natural abilities but what really drives their success is that they learn from their failures.
Calling on MJ again you may remember this quote from his Nike commercial, “I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Instead of giving up when MJ failed, he went back out on the court and practiced harder and with greater determination applying what he learned. People aren't successful because they succeeded once, they are successful because they failed more than once which allowed them to succeed.
Reason 3 – Preparation and Failure = success
I read on the internet that Tiger Woods hits as many as 1,000 golf balls a day on non-tournament days. 1,000! I might hit 90 during a single round twice a month. Do you think tiger hits every golf ball exactly how he wants? Do you think he hits the same shot 1,000 times?
Or does he adjust his shots based on the previous one until he gets it just right?
Tiger, Michael, and Thomas all knew that success comes from practice. Why do we practice? To enable us to get better. How do we get better? By applying the lessons, we learned from our failures in our practice sessions.
We take the 800 lessons on what not to do and we apply all 800 of them to learn what we should do. When Tiger was once asked about being lucky he responded, “Luck – yes I have it – but, funny thing….the more I practice, the luckier I seem to get”.
These three reasons apply to everyone no matter your business or sport. Just recently I was sitting in a meeting with senior management when a question was asked of one of my colleagues. He failed to answer the question. The next time he prepares for a meeting with the same senior leaders do you think he will be ready to answer that question if it is asked again? Of course. Why?
Because he will have applied the lesson he learned from this meeting to his preparation (practice) for his next meeting. The next time he is asked that question he will be able to answer it with confidence because he applied what he learned and took action (verb). Think about what would happen if he took the noun approach in his next meeting?
So where do you stand? Is failure a noun or a verb for you? Does failure equal success for you? Do you learn from your mistakes and make yourself or your product better as a result? Or do you abandon ship and became a noun? Success comes from a lot of hard work and determination behind the scenes.
It doesn't happen just because you show up at the right place one day. So my challenge is simple, redefine what failure means to you, learn from your failures, and apply those lessons to your preparation. You'll be surprised where it will take you.