Why Failure is not the Opposite of Success

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By Peter Barron Stark | March 4th, 2013 | Leadership

Michael Jordan, maybe the greatest basketball player of all time, was cut from his varsity team at Laney High School in Wilmington NC. In the NBA, Jordan went on to miss more than 9,000 shots and lost over 300 games. Twenty-six times he was entrusted to take the last shot and win the game…but missed. But when asked about failure in his famous Nike commercial, Jordan said, “I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Jordan is right. The opposite of success isn’t failure. The opposite of success is not trying. If you seldom fail, there’s a good chance you’re playing it too safe. J.K. Rowling, who became one of the wealthiest people in the world because of the Harry Potter series, stated, “It’s impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well have not lived at all.”

The following six tips will help you to push the envelope of failure and truly be the leader who is able to make your team one of the most admired in your company or industry.

Set a goal to outlearn your competition: If your goal is to be a leader, get out in front. What I mean by this is that you need to be thinking and learning about new ways to do things. Maybe it’ll be improving a process, providing even higher levels of service to customers or introducing a new product. Think, learn and then put the outcome of what you have learned into action. Action is what changes the world.

Create and Innovate: To create and innovate, you need to set aside time to think. If you spend all your time doing tasks that take little thought, and hold a high chance of success and accomplishment, you leave very little of your time to be creative and strategically think. Creation and innovation result in change. And with all change, it’s uncomfortable and there’s a chance for failure. Don’t let that stop you.

Fail faster and more often: When asked about failure at Google, Research Director, Peter Norvig, said, “We do it by trying to fail faster and smaller. The average cycle for getting something done at Google is more like three months than three years. And the average team size is small, so if we have a new idea, we don’t have to go through the political lobbying of saying, ‘Can we have 50 people to work on this?’” This is such a great point. If you set a goal to fail more often and faster, there is a good chance that the impacts of a potential failure, won’t be that great.

Be resilient: Unless you are lucky and everything thing you do and touch turns to gold, you’ll have failure in your life. When you ask successful people about adversity, most times they will tell you that it is the adversity and failure that has enabled and propelled them to be successful. Tom Hopkins, the great sales trainer said it best, “I never see failure as failure but only as the negative feedback I need to change my course of direction.” Make a note about what you learned, get excited and move forward quickly.

Have a sense of humor: If you have the ability to laugh at yourself and your failures, you will create an environment where others will be comfortable making a mistake or trying something that doesn’t work.

Celebrate success and failure: Celebrating success is easy. Celebrating what did not work takes guts. In fact, most leaders think that the best way to handle someone else’s failure is to not say anything about it. But, when a leader has the guts to say, “I wanted to bring some special recognition to Sandy in today’s meeting. A lot of you know that Sandy spent the last month developing a new process for our software. We implemented it last week and many of you know, it didn’t work as planned. But I want to recognize Sandy for three reasons. First, she had a vision to improve our system. Second, she had the guts to try a new idea that we had no guarantee that it would work. And third, after it failed, she came into my office and said, ‘I am not giving up. It did not work this way but there has to be a way that will be significantly more efficient for us to operate.’ Sandy, you make me proud. Let me know what else you need from me or the team to make this work.”

As you think about the significant successes you have accomplished to date, you’d most likely agree that anything worthwhile that you have ever accomplished took more than one attempt to get it right. Most significant successes are preceded by a series of attempts that didn’t quite produce the results we were initially trying to achieve. With that in mind, develop a healthy respect for failure, seeing it as a part of the continuum to success, not the final result. Remember, the opposite of success is not failure, it’s not trying in the first place!

Peter Barron Stark Companies is a nationally recognized management consulting company that specializes in employee engagement surveys, executive coaching, and leadership and employee training. For more information, please visit http://www.peterstark.com

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