Failure Is A Great Teacher

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This might look funny and not welcoming to you, but the truth is that you can’t learn all your lessons from success stories. Success and Failure are same thing, what makes it same is that the share the same experience but with different outcome. The outcome of one determines its reference. But it is disappointing that people only appreciate it when it’s a success story. Too often we are obsessed with success. In sports, entertainment, business, government, individual feats, group accomplishment whatever the genre, we find, highlight, profile, study, and promote the success story. In a profound way, we relate to success. It awakens within us a sense of, “I could do that too!” That is why sports fans, for instance, talk about their favorite team in the first person. We especially love the stories of those who have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps – people who were seemingly little before they made it big. The rags-to-riches theme is common in our movies. Put simply, Nigerians love a winner. It encourages us. It inspires us. We know that we learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of others, but until now, how many times have we habitually studied failure particularly our own to glean its lessons?

When we fail, the conventional wisdom is to “move on” and “not dwell on the past.” Yet, the study of failure may be the most fertile ground for productive improvement leading to sustained excellence. You need to consider this very important for better success. Imagine what would have happened if the Titanic had not struck an iceberg and sunk on her maiden voyage. Her reputation as an “unsinkable” ship would have been reinforced. Imagine further that she had returned to England and continued to cross and recross the North Atlantic without incident. Her success would have been evident to everyone, and competing steamship companies would have wanted to model their new ships after her. Indeed, they would have wanted to build even larger ships — and they would have wanted to build them more cheaply and sleekly. There would have been a natural trend toward lighter and lighter hulls, and fewer and fewer lifeboats. Of course, the latent weakness of the Titanic’s design would have remained, in her and her imitators. It would have been only a matter of time before the position of one of them coincided with an iceberg and the theretofore unimaginable occurred. The tragedy of the Titanic prevented all that from happening. It was her failure that revealed the weakness of her design. The tragic failure also made clear what should have been obvious that a ship should carry enough lifeboats to save all the lives on board. Titanic’s sinking also pointed out the foolishness of turning off radios overnight, for had that not been common practice with the new technology, nearby ships may have sped to the rescue.

“Nothing succeeds like success” is an old saw with many different teeth — some still sharp and incising, some worn down from overuse, some entirely broken off from abuse. My first touch of the book “fuck up failure” first edition was kind of “what nonsense would this be!” until I took it up to read the prologue by Leticia Gasca, read with open mind and see what came out from a naughty habit of drunkenness. “We don’t want to be associated with failure”, is what some people have said to us in some kind of attempt to deny reality. It seems that they think that if we pretend that everything is okay and we avoid talking about embarrassing things, the world will be a better place. What a mistaken idea. The real world works differently. If we accept imperfection and failure, if we call them what they are and talk openly about them, the world will be a better place. To put my money where my mouth is, I will begin by confessing that I am a failure. I started a business a few years ago that failed and, as often happens, I disappointed many people, including my investors, my colleagues, my family, and myself.

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For years I hid my failure from my conversations and from my resume, until one drunken night in 2012, in the company of four other failures that changed my life, I found out that I wasn’t the only loser. This is how Fuckup Nights began, monthly gatherings where three or four people tell their stories of failure in front of hundreds of people. And for all of those that still fear being associated with failure, let me just say: this global movement of failures is a success. In this book, I found more inspiring the story of Marisol G asé who went through what I termed hell before heaven showed. I imagined how you could organize a show without special people in attendance except your ex-boyfriends and your close acquaintances and to worse all, you ended up in huge debt. There are uncountable of lessons and motivations from failure stories than success stories if you get determined to learn from it. Even the “great” companies of the success books are susceptible to the challenges of change. Critics point out that many of the profiled companies struggled after the books were published. However, an organization’s fall from success does not negate the lessons from what led to their success. We just must be disciplined in accurately identifying the causes of their success, unblinded by faulty attribution. The key is learning.

Similarly, many organizations (thankfully) recover from periods of failure to enjoy sustained periods of success. Yet, we can still learn a great deal from what caused them to initially fail. Indeed, their ability to recover from that failure likely resulted from their own commitment to learn what caused it. Again, the key is learning.

Failure is a great teacher, so capitalize on it. You should track your decisions and actions and watch for failure. There is no guarantee that the final analysis will lead to new actions that are consistently successful, but over time, assessing failure in this way can only help you. With a robust system of analyzing success and failure, you can build decisions on previous ones, watching for patterns of success (to be emulated) or failure (to be avoided).

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