On failure

As my students know, I’m still wrestling with the concept of failure. I tell them, “I’m not sure failure exists,” and they look at me with the appropriately puzzled expressions, and I kind of backtrack and say, “Well, maybe it occurs when you stop.” Certainly there is under-performance, not hitting objectives, etc., but as a disciple of Deming, I feel that those types of things are part of the PDSA (Plan, Do, Study, Act) process, and as long as you determine why you missed your objective, and refine your approach, and get the ball back in play…well, that’s just part of the process. So, I usually just conclude by saying, “Failure is the foundation upon which success is built.”

Be this as it may, there are people far more expert in this field than I, and it’s great to learn from them. To wit, here’s an interesting interview with the great Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, whose books I devoured during my MBA, and which I need to go back.

Some salient points:


Does failure – or beating back failure – make you a better person?

It makes a hero. Joseph Campbell wrote about this. The hero has certain consistent qualities in every culture: a common touch, a call to greatness, a critical trial and a setback. Failure punctuates truly great leaders. They aren’t great until they’ve failed. Failure is the crucible, the test. They deal with it, and their confidence and capabilities are enhanced.

What else do successful rebounders do?

They create a new purpose. Many people think that prominent people rebound because they’re wealthy and have access to resources and great connections – or luck. No, it’s the conscious choices they make.

Your parting wisdom, Jeff?

People who fail should feel liberated. They’ve already failed. Get over it!

[via Guy Kawasaki’s Twitter, which I’d like to link to, but – as per usual – Twitter is having capacity issues. Can I say this now: WHAT THE FUCK! This has been going on too damn long now. It’s cool at the beginning, and people understand, but for this to continue to happen on a daily basis is just lame. This is failure. This is the opposite of refining and improving. It simply appears to be ignoring. Or hubris. Did you guys not see what happened to Friendster when they didn’t get their shit together, and their site ran at syrup speed? Do you really not think that someone isn’t going to come along and do “Twitter that works”; kind of the way MySpace did Friendster that works. Unreal!]

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