If someone had tried and failed and then said that they could not do something, it does not sound unreasonable to say that they should not do the same thing again. However, how do we learn? Trial and error, the School of Hard Knocks, University of Life. There is a saying that the sign of stupidity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting the results to be different. One of the things that helps us make progress is getting feedback and acting on it. In fact setting up scenarios so that people can learn by trial and error in a controlled environment is an acknowledged teaching method.
We don’t expect a child to learn to stand without holding onto something first to learn to gain their balance. This helps them gain enough confidence to let go of their support and take a few steps on their own. In the process, they may have a lot of tumbles and bumps but the vast majority of children get through the process relatively unscathed. They want to walk as it is something that comes naturally and they will keep on trying until they do. A child may suffer a series of temporary defeats in the process but the vast majority of parents are able to celebrate the fact that their child can walk around about its first birthday.
Failure is a learning exercise
Yet so often, we expect to succeed and when we don’t, we don’t even try again. We make the excuse, sorry we can’t do that. We don’t analyse what went wrong and learn from our mistakes. Robert Kiyosaki says that his most valuable lessons were learnt from failed projects. For example, one of his early businesses failed because he did not protect his intellectual property.
These days everything he does is carefully protected with trademarks, copyrights etc. In other words, he learnt from his mistakes. He could have blamed those who took advantage of the situation with his intellectual property but if he did this, he would not recognise how irresponsible he was being by leaving it unprotected. Next time he knew that he had to be responsible enough to ensure that his intellectual property was protected. By doing this, he was able to take control of the situation.
Mark Hansen and Bob Allen in One Minute Millionaire suggest that we should expect to be rejected or fail three times. In other words, when we approach someone or an organisation with an idea we should not expect our first approach to succeed. That is not to say that we should not try hard the first time around but that we should learn from the response and look at how we can make a better approach next time.
Those who really want to achieve something review the areas where they have failed and take responsibility for doing something to change the situation. Instead of blaming others, they look at the situation to see what they could have done better and will do better the next time.
Failure knocks us but we need to learn to bounce
Problem is though is that failure can leave us feeling so crushed that we do not want to try again. We have this tendency to believe that those who are successful have been successful in everything. One of the best known presidents of the USA, Abraham Lincoln, had a long series of failures behind him yet he kept going. If had given up when he failed then no one would have heard of him.
Thomas Edison made over 1,000 attempts to invent a light bulb. It is not how many times we fall that determines the outcome but how many times we manage to pick ourselves up. Fall seven times and pick up yourself up seven times you will succeed. Fall seven times and pick yourself up six times and you will fail. Notice how similar those sentences are. The difference between success and failure is one attempt at picking yourself up. We lose when we stop trying after we fail but we will win if we keep trying until we win.
Marketing and sales is one area where it is easy to become discouraged. We can spend a lot of time money and effort trying to get our message across to make a sale and still find that only 2% of our contacts become a sale. In other words, 98% of people do not respond. Marketers keep going and even make more efforts because they know that enough people respond to make their efforts worthwhile. The idea is that enough profit is derived from even such a low response rate that the expense of the marketing campaign is worthwhile.
Failure is important
There are people who are not successful because they have failed to fail. That might sound a bit strange. The problem is that they have stayed within the boundaries that they have set themselves so that they feel safe and this has led to their lack of success.
Success often requires us to extend our boundaries. If we never even try to do this then there is no way that we can succeed. In the sports realm they say no pain no gain. The idea being that we push ourselves to do something such as an extra repeat of an exercise each time that we do it so that we build up our strength. The thing is often when we do that we take our body to the limits of what we think that it is capable of doing. It can scream out in pain at us either during or after the activity, yet we know that after it repairs itself it will be stronger and more capable of doing what we want it to do later.
This also applies when we are recovering after an injury to our body. For example, after I fell and hurt my arm badly in 2002 the physiotherapist gave me some exercises to do and then said she was happy with the amount of movement that I had regained. I was not satisfied because there was still something that I could not do that I wanted to do i.e. plug my iron into a particular socket. I kept going regaining movement until I could stretch my arm straight out to reach that socket. Someone I knew at that time demonstrated to me that a similar injury had left them with limited movement. I did not want this to happen to me hence my refusal to accept the physiotherapist’s verdict.
Failure can be helpful
The more times we make an effort to change things for the better the stronger we become. Sometimes we need to go through a series of struggles in order to achieve our goal. If we don’t get through that struggle then we do not achieve our aim. An athlete gets stronger and more able to perform within their chosen sport by practise and if they don’t practise then they don’t succeed.
Some people find themselves in situations where they need to struggle and face failure again and again in order to succeed. That period will take longer the less opportunity they have to practise. If they increase the amount of practise that they have then they will achieve their goal in a shorter period of time. Human nature would encourage us to slow down because practise takes effort and determination whereas if we speeded up then the difficulties would be over quicker.
Failure does not need to be permanent
Sometimes we need to grow as people before we are able to deal with a situation. Ever seen a small child try and pick up a large shopping bag. The bag may be so big compared to them that when they hold the handles they find it easier to drag it along the floor. Worse still if there is something in it then they quite simply cannot pick it up.
A few years later the child is taller so can pick the same bag up without dragging it along the floor and they are stronger so that they can pick it the same bag with the same things in it that they could not do before. The bag is the same the contents are the same and yet the level of achievement is different. The difference is that the child has grown taller and stronger.
There are times when we look at what we have struggled with or have failed to do and say we dare not try that again. Yet we may have had enough other experiences after that one to make us into someone who would find it possible to carry out that task. We need to consider how much we have grown and developed since the last time we tried to do whatever it is.
Failure is like manure
Have you ever thought about mistakes being like manure? Manure is a waste product that some gardeners dig into the soil to help plants grow better. Some gardeners describe the best manure as “well-rotted horse muck”. Do you know why the people mentioned earlier were able to make progress even after making mistakes? They stopped and thought what had gone wrong and the next time they tried they did things differently.
It is possible to learn as much if not more from our failures as we do from our successes. Dig enough well rotted manure i.e. what they have learnt from their mistakes in to the soil that you are planted in and you will blossom. Well we know Edison for the number of inventions he was credited with not the number of mistakes that he made.
Of course not everyone likes manure. They think it is smelly dirty horrible stuff. They avoid it at all costs. They have a point when it gets in the wrong place. If it finds its way onto the hall carpet it causes problems. If it is used to help plants grow in the garden it has great benefits. It is a question of how you use it.
One of the things that people do not like about manure is that it can smell quite unpleasant. That smell does not last just as the unpleasantness of making a mistake does not last. However, what some of us do is think that we deserve to face that kind of unpleasantness and struggle to move on.
We keep on remembering the mess that was created rather than forgiving ourselves (and anyone else involved) and moving on. It is as if we want to live in a smelly place. That is our choice. We do not have to do if we don’t want to do. We can move on and put it behind us if we decided to do so.