How to Learn from Failure

From the minor slip up to a full-blown catastrophe, failure is a part of life and business. It’s part of your self-development, and it’s part of developing talent. It should be embraced as an opportunity for continuous learning and growth.

Rather than deny or shun it, it should be embraced as an opportunity for learning and growth.

Embracing the Success Cycle

Before successfully inventing the lightbulb, it’s said that Thomas Edison ran tens of thousands of experiments. When asked about the experience he denied having failed. Claiming instead, he’d just been systematically eliminating all the flaws.

Edison saw that failure isn’t the opposite of success, rather it’s a part of a process known at the success cycle, consisting of four stages, Trying, Failing, Learning, and Succeeding.

The success cycle starts when you attempt something new, by trying. This obviously involves the potential for error. When deciding on a new design, a car manufacturer may experiment with several shapes or elements before settling on a final, successful result. Only by considering a combination of inputs can the end product be envisioned. This brings us to the next stage in the success cycle. Failure. New ventures often end in disappointment. And that’s okay. Rather than panicking at the thought of making a mistake. We have to be willing to accept it. And the possibility to grow from it.

Give yourself permission to falter or slip up. Resist the urge to quit, or worse not to try at all. It’s natural to feel disheartened when things don’t go the way you planned. The key is to control your disappointment. And focus on moving forward, only wiser this time. By allowing yourself to experiment, to try and fail, you learn to accept unexpected and unwanted outcomes for what they are. A part of the process.

Next is the learning stage of the success cycle. Like Edison, you can decide to adopt an attitude of speculation and discovery. That means deciding to focus on the knowledge and insight you can gain from every experience, instead of fixating on the capacity for failure. Ask yourself, what happened, what went wrong, what did I miss? Then, once you’ve identified the problem, the cause of the failure, adapt your approach and try again, growing from what you’ve learned. If you missed a step along the line, create a checklist to keep it from happening again. And, if you fail again, then learn and try again, this time more experienced.

And, eventually you come to the final phase of the success cycle, which is to actually achieve success. This is the part where you celebrate. Enjoy your accomplishment. Let it last until the next thing you try. Then the cycle begins anew. But before you do, consider making yourself a perseverance list. The list should include what you did well. What went wrong. And what you learned. When you’re ready to try the next thing, review the list and remember that every failure presents a learning opportunity and then go try something else.

Business expert, Tom Peters, promotes a simple philosophy, “whoever tries the most stuff wins. You do some stuff. Most fails. Some works. You do more of what works. And if not, then you do something else. The trick is the doing something else.”

Embracing the success cycle helps you understand failure as a chance to grow and improve. Ultimately success is attainable. But only if you confront your fear and try.

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