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5 Reasons to Find Goodness When We Fail

May 2, 2011
by Tim Tolan
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Remembering past failures helps us tread more carefully in the present

Most people are wired to compete, and - yes - to win. It's part of our makeup. Winning lets us reset the bar/raise the watermark we use to measure our accomplishments, and everybody loves to be associated with a winner (not with a loser). We’re taught that success breeds more success, and we want to surround ourselves with the winner’s circle to elevate our own sense of self-worth.

I get that.

But why do so many of us want to sweep failures under the rug, and only focus on that last ticker-tape parade? We lose so much when we forget about our disappointments. A miss can be better than a hit!

Here's why:

· We're humbled when we lose. Life teaches us through trials and tribulations, and humility is one lesson that can only be learned the hard way. Remembering past failures helps us tread more carefully in the present, and also keeps that ego in check. Experiencing humility is a good thing!

· A miss teaches us resilience. We are able to successfully deal with setbacks when we learn to overcome adversity. The age-old Winston Churchill slogan resonates here: “Never give in, never give in. Never, never give in”. Tap into your innate ability to get back on the horse so the next time “stuff happens” - and it will - we can get back in the game. Regardless of how badly things turn out, you usually get another chance – it’s just a numbers game.

· Losing helps us develop a “stick-to-itiveness” sort of behavior - the necessary tenacity to keep things moving. Let’s face it: quitting is the easy way out. Anybody can quit. The ability to ride out the storm and learn from our mistakes makes us better business leaders and overall, better people. Tenacity is the inertia that pushes us forward in defeat.

· Misses teach us better ways to accomplish our goals, regardless of what we're chasing. Losing is a great teacher, and future decisions based the sum of all of our experiences (not just the good ones) will be better ones. The old losing strategy is replaced by a new and better way of accomplishing goals. You never lose if you remember what came before.

· Misses make us better competitors. A failure pushes you forward, and the next time you set personal goals, compete for business, or take on a new task you'll strive harder to win. When the whistle blows, your newfound confidence - gained from falling on your sword previously - will have you better prepared with confidence to help you compete – and win.

It’s been said that life is a series of ten steps forward and two steps backwards. In the long run, learning from a miss is a good thing as long as you've learned something from the experience. When you miss, just get over it, get back on the horse. Move on. Keep pushing to the front, and you'll find that victory is just around the corner. No exceptions.

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Comments

Joe: Thanks for your comments and references on this topic. There are far too many good things that can come as a result of failure if we are open to recognizing them. Lincoln and Franklin are examples of great Americans who had a track record of failure. They also found great success as a result of what they learned along the way. All goodness!

Tim,
Terrific guidance. Last month, HBR did an entire issue on failure, and how to better exploit and learn from failure. As you point out, it is very important.

I wrote a post relating strategic-failure-thinking to our industry and beta processes for Stage 1 MU, here: http://bit.ly/LionsTigersBetas

Two articles I found particularly salient. One was Amy Edmondson's which I referenced in my post. There's a fascinating spectrum she paints, from blameworthy to praiseworthy reasons for failure.

There's another article, "Managing Yourself: Can You Handle Failure?" by Dattner and Hogan that I highly recommend. The issue of self-awareness of your type as it relates to blame is something every manager would be well served to understand.

Thanks again for sharing your insights. I think it's terrific that you're able to help people every day at work and then share with those of us who read your blog what you have to teach. Your passion is palpable.

Thanks for a terrific and so very timely article! The ability to manage perceived and true failure in a constructive fashion is critical to success. (If there's someone out there who has managed to succeed without failure, I'd love to meet them!) You've inspired me to share these ideas in my next corporate managers' newsletter.

Carole Romano
Director, Regulatory Affairs,
Patient Outreach & Patient Education
ProHEALTH Care Associates, LLP


Tim Tolan

Senior Partner, Sanford Rose Associates Healthcare IT Practice

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http://sanfordrose.net/thetolangroup/

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