“The Tipping Point Between Failure and Success” is the title of the article / interview on Harvard Business Review’s IdeaCast by Curt Nickisch on December 10, 2019.
After reading the interview between Curt and Dashun Wang, associate professor at Kellogg School of Management, below are some of the key points that spoke to me.
There are mainly two groups of people. Those who succeeded and those who failed. We can further subdivide the failure group into two more groups: those that eventually still fail (stagnation group) and those that eventually succeed (success group).
It is not just about failing but how we fail or how we take failing.
Be Determined: Do
“Do or Do Not, there is no Try” is a popular phrase by movie character Yoda that comes to mind. We have to realize the fact that we don’t really just fail once. In reality sometimes we will fail over and over; eventually if we keep at it smartly, we will successfully reach our goal. Most people don’t realize how close to success they are and give up and the sad fact is that many of failure situations, people don’t know how close they were to success.
The key here is to be determined and to try and try again (oops I meant do and do again).
Be Smart: Experience and be Open to Feedback
We may be failing over and over, and we try again and again, but sometimes we are not learning enough to actually achieve success. This is what is called stagnation. We try over and over, but fail to learn enough to initiate an intelligent pattern with improvement. Then there are others who fail over and over but they fail faster and faster to eventually approach success. This means then that not all failures lead to success.
Failure is a wonderful thing because it SHOULD give us at two things. If it does not, it is not that wonderful. What we should gain is:
A past experience – failing means we have actually done and gone through the process, so we have got a lot of practical experience of processes we can reuse.
A chance to obtain feedback – The very fact we failed means there is a result to see or somebody who told us we failed. It usually comes with some feedback we should be open to so we can know which part we did well and which part we did not.
After being determined to keep trying, we must be smart about it and examine the “whys” of how we failed and change so as to improve on the next try. Remake ourselves, taking in the feedback and experience gained. Focus on changing and improving what we did not do as well in, while retaining and reusing the ones we did well in. This is the critical tipping point in determining if we manage to move from the group stuck in stagnation to the successful group.
How long you take between tries also matters. Groups or individuals who failed and ended failing, had many failed attempts along the way but did not improve in their efficiencies e.g. the time between two consecutive attempts stayed constant as they failed over and over.
However, when it came to groups or individuals who succeeded, it was found that they were efficient and systematically improved the inter-event time between two consecutive attempts (decreasing the time between attempts). Short time between tries also means faster results and feedback, allowing for faster changes. This means they start to fail faster and faster, till they eventually succeed.
Therefore, there is an advantage to increasing your rate of failure, as long as you know you’re learning and improving from those failed attempts.
What shouId we do?
There are things we learned very early on as children but lost gradually as we grew up and were pressured by a society focused on celebrating success and forgetting failures. Now we go through our careers with failures at every corner. How many of us quit, change industries and blame our bosses or our clients? How many of us look and reflect on our actions and efforts? Adding to that we only observe and glorify other people who have succeeded, we gradually start to forget the importance of failure, and the role of failure in helping to actually improve our career in different ways.
Just like the Chinese saying, “failure is the mother of success” / 失败是成功之母, we must not forget how we learned as children growing up: experiencing, learning, changing and excelling.
When failure happens, we should reflect on our work. Losing doesn’t mean you are out of the game. Losers in some cases will stay in the game, may actually become, in future, bigger winners.
What does this mean as teachers and leaders?
Everyone is a teacher and leader. Maybe not at the office but at home to your children, or to your friends and family. We must observe the way people fail over and over to identify today’s losers that will become tomorrow’s winners. Everyone will encounter things that don’t go the way we want it to, but that is the nature of failure, no one is immune to it.
We, as teachers and leaders, should give teams or people second chances and help them learn from failures through mentoring and feedback to increase the likelihood of success down the road.
Be determined and just do it, Fail Fast, Learn Faster, and keep at it to Succeed.