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In the Face of Failure


We all know the adage “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” and I’m sure we’ve all rolled our eyes at it at one time or another. That river is too wide to cross. That bridge too weak to support us. I don’t have the tools. I’ve failed too many times. It is in these moments of weakness that we must act. Whether it was Ray Bradbury or Kurt Vonnegut who said it, we have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down. By analyzing our errors, understanding our mistakes, and seeing in the failure where we should have acted differently, we can grow our wings, make adjustments to our strategy and try again.

In the world of work we have been conditioned to work quickly. There is often a misconception that speed equals maximized productivity. While it can be invigorating, this speed can also be a hindrance. There are times when we are not given opportunities to fail (and there are those rare situations where failure really is unacceptable). When not given enough time to strategize or to understand the scope of a problem so we can fix it, the unseen errors build one by one until we are left with a mountain of failure instead of any kind of solution.

In business and in life, learn to fail forward. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Don’t drive yourself crazy. Some of the most inspirational minds failed the first, tenth, or thousandth times they tried. Sir James Dyson had 5,126 failed prototypes for his bagless vacuum before he got one right.

If you are afraid of failure you can never succeed.

Here are a few tips for brushing off your knees and getting back on track:

  1. Don’t let failure define you. Everyone makes mistakes. They key is recognizing what you’ve done wrong and moving forward.
  2. Recognize the problem. Pinpoint what went wrong in more specific terms than “it doesn’t work.”
  3. Try new things. Brainstorm more than one possible solution and try each one to see what sticks.
  4. By sharing your failure with others you open yourself up to different ways of analyzing the same problem.
  5. Take some time. Walk away. Give your brain some air. In these moments of calm, a solution often arises.
  6. Track your changes as you experiment with different iterations to find a solution. Having quantifiable information will aid in your success.

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2 Responses

  1. Alissa I really enjoy your writing. Being one that is just starting to explore writing, I think I could learn a lot from you. I like the phrase- “Fail forward.” Like a salmon swimming upstream. How many times do you think they smack their head on the rocks before they make it up the next climb? They know when to rest, and they know when to push forward again. It truly pays in life to keep a sound mind, and a steady resolve. I have to admit, I’ve always been one who had trouble appreciating anything that came too easily. I’ve always felt that there was something about earning something that was worth every ounce of effort. Old shoes, are comfortable shoes.

  2. Ryan, Thank you so much for your feedback! I think it is incredibly important to see possibility in failure, that there is always something to be learned that can help you build success and move forward. Even comfortable shoes wear holes in them – don’t be afraid to buy a new pair!

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