Do we simply accept failure or do we combat it? The answer really is BOTH. It is not necessary to succumb to failure, but it is useful to examine what happened so you don’t make the same mistakes in the future. Virtually anyone who has achieved success in business can tell you all about their past failures. Those failures range from insignificant to catastrophic, yet people’s resilience always astounds.
A Notable Example
One epic example of recovery and innovation is Walt Disney.
After serving as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross in France, in 1919 Walt Disney embarked upon his career in animation. Over time, he and his team achieved some degree of success with a character called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Oswald was, however, owned by its distributor, Universal Pictures. In 1928, faced with a mediocre offer and the prospect of a low-rung artist position, Disney parted ways and set out on his own. The drawback: He no longer had Oswald and most of his team of animators did not follow him on his solo venture.
Disney’s next move involved a new character based on several innocent sketches of a few circles. These unremarkable circles evolved into the round face, big ears, and big eyes of a mouse. Inspired by a real mouse he had adopted and originally called Mortimer, the name Mickey was chosen for this new personality. I assume you know how the story ends.
The Disney story is an excellent example of taking a failure or setback and turning it to one’s advantage – and in Disney’s case, an epic advantage. There are countless such stories – perhaps on a smaller scale, yet no less inspiring. The truth is that nothing worthwhile falls into place without hard work, resilience, creativity, ingenuity, and innovation.
Trial & Error
The trial and error approach is useful in many respects. It does however have a drawback in that there are an infinite number of wrong ways to do something. You can keep doing something wrong and never land on anything that works. It is therefore very useful to study how others’ successes were achieved. Take a look at some of the people and companies you admire. How did they get started? What values did they stick with through thick and thin? What failures did they experience and how did they overcome them? You can look anywhere when seeking stellar examples – sports, the arts, the humanities, military, wherever you find inspiration.
Once you have assimilated some of this useful information, you should formulate how much of it you’d like to use and how much to ignore. A great jazz musician might be well-versed in all the rules of music, and in knowing them all he can then venture outside those rules. He knows which to follow invariably, which can be bent, and which can be broken. This is innovation at work.
Another useful approach to innovation is the pilot project. You have a mainline activity that is working and, perhaps most importantly, paying the bills. But you’d like to venture out, so you set up a “pilot” for your new project – a new line, new product, etc. – without dismantling your successful operation. You can then work on the pilot project, give it the attention it deserves, and tweak it accordingly so it too becomes successful.
Failure = Opportunity
So, something failed. That doesn’t mean that YOU failed. Factually, “failure” is something that doesn’t really exist. What? How is that? Failure means try harder, try again, work out a different system, or use the failure as an opportunity. There is an ancient concept that when one door (a wooden door) closes, another door (an iron door this time) opens. If you don’t see the iron door opening, you may need to look around – or sketch something out like Walt did. Any inspiring story I can think of involved an individual or team that simply never gave up, pure and simple.
Passion vs. Inertia
When you are passionate about something, the passion drives you forward. It makes you come up with solutions when none are in sight. When your heart isn’t really into something, your own inertia prevents you from pushing barriers out of the way. You can sort of artificially generate energy, forcing yourself into action – this works to some degree, but is really a substitute for being truly passionate and committed. I recommend that people veer toward areas in which they are truly interested and passionate.
One of the problems with this thing called failure is that it makes people prone to more failure. They fail once. They try again and fail again. They then start to assume that they “always fail.” And if they fail again, they are not at all surprised. So failure begets failure. How does one flip this around? Because it needs to be flipped around or the person will most likely continue to fail. The trick is to rekindle one’s original purposes, the aforementioned passion, why one got into something to begin with. How do you do this? There are many ways. You can go back to what inspired you in the first place. Maybe you read an article or interview with someone you deeply respected. Maybe it was just a decision you made that set you alight. You can decide, in the now, in the present moment, to make that decision again. You can always draw from the well of motivation.
In many ways, recuperating after a failure boils down to motivation and inspiration. But you should also be aware that there are right ways to do things and wrong ways to do things, and life is a learning experience. The most successful people define a failure as a lesson or opportunity.
As you overcome obstacles to success, and even as you experience failure, you gather knowledge so that you are better equipped in the present and the future. So it’s alright to accept failure as long as you learn from it and use that knowledge.
Maybe with some ingenuity, you can take a failure, come up with something as simple as a few circles sketched on a piece of paper – and make history. Who am I to say you can’t?