Understanding the Three Types of Failure

The more you understand failure, the better equipped you are to learn from and move past it. Not all failure is bad. Think of it as existing along a continuum. With three major types. Knowing the differences between these three types of failure, helps you understand when you failed usefully and when you’ve simply messed up.

On one end of the failure spectrum lays avoidable failure. This failure is both unproductive and preventable, like basic human error. Disregarding process protocols can be costly and may result in doubled effort. Accidentally hitting reply all on a confidential email response, can be embarrassing and in extreme cases, cause your company’s reputation to take a hit. In either case, there’s nothing productive to be learned aside from don’t do it again.

The second type of failure is contextual, also known as complexity failure. It resides at the center of the failure spectrum. It’s a result of external influences beyond your control, such as changing regulations, or natural disaster. Consider, for instance, a complex series of repercussions for a producer of mobile phones. If the country responsible for supplying the rare mineral used to manufacture some of the electrical circuitry were to run out of natural resources. Entire consignments of smartphones would be delayed or cancelled until an alternate source can be found. The resulting loss of revenue would be catastrophic.

Opening a new start up company can be equally unpredictable, depending on the economy, a new business could thrive or lead to bankruptcy. In such cases, insolvency happens, not because the owners personally made poor business decisions, but due to the economic climate of the times. Having a contingency plan can reduce the effects of such failures. Contingency planning can save you time, money and unnecessary stress, in the event of an emergency. Imagine what could go wrong and prepare for it to the extent possible.

The final type of failure is a natural consequence of undertaking striving efforts. At the opposite end of the continuum from avoidable failure, it’s at once both productive and unavoidable. It’s the inevitable result of pioneering endeavors. Pursuing challenging new ventures in attempts to do what you’ve never done before. This is the failure you can learn and grow from. One particular form of striving can involve doing something familiar on a much larger scale, thereby stretching your capacity.

For example, expanding a small business could mean taking on larger projects. In the process, if the business owner misses a deadline because he was understaffed, or he miscalculated the development or production time. His failure is a necessary part of a learning curve that leads to reaching his ultimate goal. The key is to learn from it and apply what you’ve learned as you try again.

The secret to embracing failure is understanding which to avoid and what types to learn from, so you can move forward.

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