Failure: Strength or Weakness?

A lady sits at her desk with her head in her hands

It depends on your lens…

If you aren’t failing, you aren’t trying hard enough’ – we get it. But this piece of ‘friendly’ advice can feel really unhelpful if, indeed, you are trying….and you are failing!

Failure doesn’t feel good. It sends us a direct and grisly message that we’re not good enough, that we took a sub-optimal approach, that perhaps we didn’t put in enough effort. It can sting. And it’s emotional. Setbacks and failures can turn into seeds of self-doubt.

When we look a little closer though, we find that the act of failing offers a host of other, more helpful messages:

  • Failure signifies you’ve tried, and invested effort
  • Failure suggests that you are looking for ways to achieve something new
  • Failure demonstrates you are willing to attempt something with an uncertain outcome
  • Failure confirms that you are stretching your potential
  • Failure reminds us that we remain ‘in development’ mode
  • Failure shows others that we are still willing to try, and learn

Nothing great has ever been achieved on first pass, without a few attempts, tests, pilots, beta-tests, models or digital twins. Failure should be baked-in to the development process, providing valuable feedback on how to work around issues or optimise performance. Failure isn’t a gut punch to the ego, it’s simply part of the growth process.

Failure is not a public demonstration of weakness either. Nobody else magically figured out how to do what you are trying to achieve. Everyone went through the process that you’re going through right now.

The great David Goggins talks about failures as simply ‘attempts’.

So let’s talk about micro-failures – in reality, a macro-failure would be something like dying, or filing for bankruptcy. We can view almost everything else as a micro-failure, it’s generally our mindset that makes failures bigger.

And why do micro-failures matter? They tend to be short-lived, non-life-threatening and pretty regular. The more we notice them for what they are, the more we receive rich learnings from them.

How to use micro-failures to your advantage:

  • Fail fast and often – every micro-failure teaches us a valuable lesson. And the more often we uncover them, the quicker we learn. The skill here is to notice a failure, rather than boldly continuing down the same path with no reflection or review. Some lessons can only be learnt through execution, we can’t read about it, we only know what works for us if we try. But remain vigilant about the process and agile about the forward process – recalibrate, reprioritise and try again
  • The phrase ‘failing forward’ is not as annoying as it sounds. Micro-failures are simply ‘attempts’, ones that we learn from for the next attempt, and that’s a sign that we are gaining traction towards success
  • The phrase It’s not the falling down that matters, it’s the getting up that counts’ is helpful when galvanising mindsets to ‘go again’, but is completely unhelpful when attempting to optimise our performance. If we don’t assess why we fell in the first place, then how can we possibly learn to avoid it or fine-tune our approach in the future?

Do you see failures as attempts? You’re In Cool Company! Get in touch today and let’s explore how we can collaborate and learn together.

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