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What to do when you fail
What to do when you fail
Oprah Winfrey was fired from her job as a news anchor and was told she was “unfit for television.”
Walt Disney’s newspaper editor told him he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas” as he fired him.
Michael Jordan was kicked off his high school basketball team.
Abraham Lincoln pretty much takes the cake. He lost 8 elections, failed in business twice and suffered a nervous breakdown. Then went on to become one of the most influential presidents in US history.
“Failure is the stepping stone to success.”
The problem is that most stories of successful individuals who overcame failure end there. We often subconsciously come to the conclusion that it’s just a matter of trying and trying and trying again. Then we’ll succeed.
And while that’s often true and many quit too early, there’s one little factor that’s often left out that’s the real make-it or break-it. The learning process of failure: adaptation.
We often overlook the most important part of these stories, how these individuals learned from their shortcomings.
Take Henry Ford. It took many tries and many years to rework his initial design before he succeeded at creating the first affordable automobile.
He lost financial backers, his own company, and manufactured flawed machines along the way. But Ford’s secret was constant analysis and adjustments.
The cars were too heavy, he reworked the models & tweaked the materials. The assembly took too long, he restructured his plant and created a breakthrough process of manufacturing. His investors were slowing him down by wanting too much of a say in the design and structure of the company, he found an entrepreneurial financial backer who would let him make his own decisions.
As Ford himself said, “failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”
Success isn’t about just getting lucky from striking the right luck. Success is built through constant tinkering and mea culpas.
After failing fabulously in his youth, Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, found more ways to fail fabulously. He failed key primary school tests twice, middle school entrance exams three times and received 1 out of 120 points correct on his college entrance exam (which he failed twice).
After starting Alibaba, it nearly imploded when the Silicon Valley dot.com bubble burst. He lost valuable momentum after informing his 18 partners that none could ever rise higher than the rank of manager. Alibaba suffered many dark days of employee turnover and dissatisfaction.
This, he notes, was his biggest mistake ever.
But this was one of Alibaba’s ultimate key to success. “The lessons I learned from the dark days at Alibaba are that you've got to make your team have value, innovation, and vision.” Jack learned from his initial mistake and created a company
Jack believes that an MBA program should study cases of failure, rather than success. As Jack humbly explains, “I call Alibaba ‘1,001 mistakes.’”
How can you recalculate and learn from you mistakes?
1. Drop Your Ego
Many business owners have become successful because they wouldn’t take no for an answer. They believed in themselves and made things happen. However, what got you here won’t get you there.
If you’re looking to grow and learn from your failures, your first step is mastering humility. Humility is the one trait that a leader can never have enough of. It’s not about dismissing your talents or success. It’s the opposite. It’s about being a self-reflecting individual who is willing to be honest and real in order to continue to grow one’s talents.
A little while ago I did an experiment with myself to build some humility. I begged in the streets of Jerusalem...
2. Enroll a Friend or Mentor.
There’s an old saying that you can’t rescue yourself from jail. If you find yourself continuously making the same mistakes, ask for outside input. You may be so caught up in the thick of it that you can’t see the simple fixes. Don’t underestimate the value in having a trusted friend or mentor look over your shoulder and give you constructive criticism.
Don’t go at it alone. Find someone else to help you turn your failures into success. Read about how a 22 year old tennis player taught one surgeon how to operate better.
3. Let Your Employees Fail.
This is a hard one and scary. But it’s a game-changer.
Learning from one’s failure applies to everyone, you and your team. Fact: Your employees will make mistakes and fail. Your choice lies in how you will respond. Will you criticise and clean up the mess for them or will you use it as an opportunity to enable them to learn, adapt, and succeed?
“ I was asked if I was going to fire an employee who made a mistake that cost the company $600,000. No, I replied, I just spent $600,000 training him. Why would I want somebody to hire his experience?”
-Thomas J. Watson
Manage them in or manage them out. But give your employees a chance to grow from their failures.
Failure is part of the game of business. It’s not if you fail. It’s if you will learn from your failure.
Taking you from where you are to where you want to be,