The secret to success appears to be based on the secret to fail.

“Try, Try and Try Again” is an old adage for persistence, that never mentions failure, but would be obsolete without it. Feedback loops rely on failure for success. Science inherently relies on failure for evolving and advancing – “Experiments rarely tell us what we expect“. Exploring the need for failure is nothing new or revolutionary.

However how is this applicable to leadership?

In all aspects of life we are driven for the need to succeed. Fact. In any job (unless we’re at the top and have the financial freedom to do what we want) we are under pressure to succeed at our prescribed task. As a water polo coach, my job is to win within the parameters of the NCAA rules, the rules of the game, and general sportsmanship (yes it does exist). Failure within this context is often seen as a sign of doing the job badly. However most of us are given parameters for framing failure and using it to our advantage, but more often than not we don’t exploit this opportunity, or we don’t explore it often enough.

Look at the Question.

When Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson mistakenly found proof of the Big Bang, they didn’t recognize it and ignored the evidence they had for more than a year until another physicist who was looking for empirical evidence of the Big bang realized what they discovered. In whatever we ‘fail’ at change your lens and look for something different in the outcome.

How to learn from Failure

  1. Check Your Assumptions (Change your Lens)
  2. Seek out the Ignorant
  3. Encourage Diversity
  4. Beware of failure blindness

Read the Signs!
Many ideas/ for this article were stolen/borrowed from Johan Lehrer’s article – “The Neuroscience of Screwing Up” from the January 2010 issue of Wired Magazine.