Successful Failure

Getting over your fear of failure and learning how failure can be a positive experience is one of the keys to your success in this new knowledge economy.

Unfortunately, over the last 30 years there has been a real increase in the fear of failure. It was programs such as Six Sigma that fostered an attitude that failure is bad. While the attitude may have been good in a product-manufacturing environment, once you get away from the product itself, the concept of failure is not as bad.

Once you get over the fact that you will fail at some point in time, missing a deadline, going over budget or substandard work, then you can get on with what you are going to do about failing. You essentially have two choices, you can crash and burn, never to be seen again by the water cooler or you can learn from the mistake and move on


If you’re going to adopt the concept of materiality and put it into practice by ignoring things that you determine are immaterial and at the same time, you’re going to focus on delivering things with speed rather than higher quality, then chances are that you’re going to fail. At some point in time, you’ll make a decision that something isn’t material and perhaps you’ll spend less time dealing with it, reducing the quality of work that you’re putting into the project. If you are right about what is material and what is not, then you have no problem. If you’re wrong however, you’ve just failed. You’ve let someone down, made a mistake. I guarantee that at some point, you will fail. The question is whether the gains that you make in gaining some semblance of order in your life by reducing your workload are worth the risk of failure.

Fear of Failure

First of all you need to look at the things that you could fail at. All failure comes when you’re trying to do something the first time or when you’re trying to change, improve etc. If you’re constantly failing at things that are not new then you may be in the wrong job or have some serious thinking to do. Failure also does not mean being unlucky enough to be involved in some activity where random external events kept you from succeeding. People don’t usually look upon this as a failure. What people look upon as a failure is delivering something that is either of lower than expected quality, late, or higher than expected cost.

Dealing with Failure

The chances are that if you deliver something that is below the recipient’s expectations, they won’t even think of it as a failure, just as a miscommunication of expectations. Given the fact that you dealt with the request quickly, the recipient has in all probability, enough time to get you to redo whatever you did, with the added level of quality. If you do something quickly and it isn’t enough, it will come back to you. This back and forth process will give you a better understanding of your recipient’s needs so that you can adjust what you do the next time. If it’s material it will come back again, if not, you’re much better off because you’ve saved yourself all sorts of time. By failing quickly there are no bad repercussions as there is lots of time to repair any situation.

More on Successful Failure

If you like reading things instead of watching videos I’ve written up a short summary of what we were trying to get at in these videos. Check it out if you want a bit more depth on the subject.