Another Blog Post On Failure: Is It Winner or Letdown? Let Me Know.
Fail fast. Fail forward. Failure is a gift. Failure is an option. These are just a few of the tens of book titles in the last few years on the subject of failure. Next to the word success, failure is right behind it as a highly popular Google search topic in the United States. It is likely even more top of mind this past year and right now given COVID-19. I thought it was timely to talk about the topic, but do I really have anything new to add? Maybe. Maybe not. You’ll be the judge. This post just may be my most recent failure. Let me know. And if it is, I am ok with it. Failure is natural. Look at our earliest development. As toddlers we fumble all over ourselves and fall hundreds of times learning to walk. As parents, do we discourage our toddlers from these attempts even though we know they’ll tumble and cry often? No. We know it is normal, necessary even. It is unfortunate that recent parenting trends do not apply this same principal to adolescence and early adulthood.
I typically see people fall into two groups after they experience a failure. There are those that fail and are brought down by it and the others that learn and grow from it. We need a disciplined view of failure as a catalyst and not the end result. It should not be discouraged. As human beings we start off as nothing. There is zilch in our quiver of knowledge and wisdom at the outset. Education and experience fills our sheaf of intelligence. Proficiency truly requires disappointments and breakdowns. What you don’t know, you don’t know. You shouldn’t be upset with yourself, hate yourself, and get down on yourself when faced with a setback. We are all failures. We have all failed hundreds of times in our lives. People can take a catastrophe, a crash, or ruin and turn it into something beautiful. These individuals are more capable, more competent, and generally more successful.
Another challenge we have with failure in the United States today is immediate gratification and success. These are both false spirits. When I speak to people about handling failure, my first, out-of-the-gate guideline is not to have the expectation of excellence overnight and being the best straightaway. It is the craziest idea that many people today think they are going to be a competent and prosperous professional immediately.
Management 101 of failure is to prepare for it. Expect it. Know that life is going to be a continuous sequence of failures, one after the other after the other. You can’t with a mindset that you’ll be a rock star in a month or two. The opposite happens. You’ll end up being crushed by your lack of success.
I acknowledge that there are varying degrees of failure and some grave. A mistake that leads to financial hardship or ruin. A blunder that injures a friendship or relationship with a family member. A decision which contributes to the loss of someone’s life. These require deeper counseling and even deeper reflection. When failure is this serious and of such enormity, I remind people that nothing is forever. You will endure. You will need much bigger psychological support structures, but it is still a learning experience.
Personally, my largest failures were with my private and professional relationships. I struggled with empathy. My upbringing was rough and rugged, violent and aggressive. My early professional experience was with the desensitized, male dominated cultures of the military and energy sectors. I resisted and then stumbled with the softer side of leadership in founding and building The RiP Group. I was not good at listening to what others said or cognizant of how they felt. Even worse, I didn’t recognize how my behavior made my team members feel. It was
one of my biggest challenges. I failed repeatedly. Many times, I offended, hurt feelings, and made the wrong decisions with my interpersonal communications. With the help of my senior leadership, I became self-aware and learned from these missteps.
Five years later, my leadership style is 180 degrees from when I started The RiP Group. I’ve studied. I’ve read. I’ve reached out to mentors. Stephanie Rosser, our COO, helped me particularly, guiding me on how my behavior and communication style influenced the feelings of our team. I altered my aggressive attitude, deliberately improving my listening skills and empathy. I worked at it and failed many times, but with the self-awareness that I must improve. Through this hard work and failure, I’ve refined my leadership. I do not unsuitable display anger & aggression. I no longer need to be the loudest voice. I don’t feel compelled to make my point first and let everyone know it is the most important. Failure forms maturity. I am still maturing.
Finally, there’s of a lot of buzz about “failing fast.” Originating in Silicon Valley, the phrase captured a great deal of attention since the founding of The RiP Group. What do I think about it? I recall a story one a professor shared with me.
Two groups of students were provided a single block of clay. The first group was asked to build a single beautiful and amazing pots. The second group was told to build as many pots as possible. It’s funny. The second group not only produced many pots, but also the most beautiful and amazing pot as well. Why? Failure.
The second group was focused on making a lot of something, so they focused on just getting pot 1.0 out first. Then when they found flaws, they went to 1.1, 1.2, 2.0, etc. They would reinforce the bottom of the pot, reform the top, try different handles, explore different decorative techniques, etc. Meanwhile, group one focused on making a single, perfect pot just once. Everything the second group learned from missteps and iteration the first group missed. This is what I think of when I hear fail fast. Whatever your working on, get it out there even if it isn’t perfect. This includes yourself. This includes this very blog post. The hews of failure ultimately produce beauty, maturity, and success.