Here is a great (and brief) article on the importance of failure in developing character, growing businesses, and helping people have a good life. It turns out that trying to spare people (ourselves, our children, our employees, etc) from experiencing the pain of failure is bad in the long run. Why? We can’t gain deep wisdom without the process of learning from our failures. This is a list from the article at Forbes.com of ways to help people fail in a way that is positive for them and the organization.
“Here are some ways to increase employees’ comfort with the risk of failure, and to be resilient when it happens:
- Share past stories of struggle. Everyone’s been there.
- Practice recovery so people aren’t paralyzed by failure. When I was coaching sports, we didn’t just diagram plays. We always developed a Plan B. That’s why great organizations scenario-plan. It helps people think of struggle as part of the process.
- Help people around you think like long-term investors in their own ideas and their own careers. The aim shouldn’t be to try to have one uninterrupted string of successes, but rather to have a portfolio of some winners and, yes, some losers.
- If someone is struggling, your job is to figure out how to get them on the right path. The real job of a manager is to help people learn from failure and move forward.
- Champion failure that turns to innovation. Find examples where ordinary failure has led to extraordinary opportunity.
- Encourage failing fast. Sometimes we recognize that something is failing, and our instinct tells us to push harder to make it succeed. Knowing when to pull the plug is always difficult but is necessary.”
Source: Helping People Learn By Letting Them Fail Is Essential – Forbes
Common sense tells us that we should learn from our mistakes. Well, as Voltaire said, “Common sense is not so common.”
Some of the best learning available comes from failure. This learning can be intellectual- like trying and failing to solve a math problem. Or this learning can be moral- realizing that revenge and bitterness is self destructive, it eats away at your own soul.
In order to really learn from our mistakes we need to be deliberate. We need to spend time thinking about why we failed. The kernel of folly is to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over. Every time we complete a project, achieve a milestone, or fall on our faces we have a chance to become our own teachers. The opportunity is especially rich when we fail. A lot can be learned in the post-mortem examination of disappointment. About life. About ourselves.
Nothing shocking about that.
But there is another amazing opportunity that is lurking in our failures. And that is the idea of serendipity. Serendipity is an accidental discovery. It is a happy accident. It is the pleasant surprise of looking for one thing, and finding something else, often something entirely different yet wonderful. And many of the most amazing advances in human knowledge and culture have been made “by accident.” And this is more common than you might think. Penicillin, microwaves, Velcro, Teflon, vulcanized rubber, Coca-Cola, radioactivity, the Post-it note, and Viagra were all the result of “accidental discoveries.” In reality the list is much longer.
According to Steven Johnson in his book, “Where Good Ideas Come From,” one of the key elements in taking advantage of serendipity is paying attention. Evidently small versions of these accidental discoveries are all around us, but we may miss them if we don’t recognize them. And we won’t recognize them if we don’t slow down and pay attention. This involves taking the time to think about what is happening and why.
Here is another reason to be willing to fail and to learn from your failures. You might learn how to do better next time. Or you might discover something else altogether. Something that could change the world forever.