I’m looking forward to catching up with the amazing tour-de-force that is Mitja Okorn later this week. The first time I met Mitja he talked a lot about the defining moments in his life and career as a film-maker and about how thankful he was for all the ‘disaster moments’ in his life. It was the ‘epic fails’ that usually offered up opportunities, lessons and new paths. And so he is passionate about seeing good in any situation!
We often hear, in the British Council, the mantra that we need to be less scared of failure and, I agree, we do. However, that’s just the beginning for me because being less scared of failure is only a good thing if it leads, ultimately to bigger and more impressive wins.
So, how can we turn failure into success? Well, here’s a few principles that I personally find useful:
1. Fear factor – Ok, I hate failing, not winning, not being the best I can be etc. But I know that I can’t always be on the winning team (a life supporting Swansea City has certainly prepared me well in that respect). So, I have developed a thick skin that helps me live with the discomfort, embarrassment and vulnerability of failing. Without that confidence I would never get out of bed in the morning and would probably play MLB The Show all day on my Playstation Vita (some days I try to do that anyway!)
2. Learning and not repeating – As Mitja knows, there’s learning and opportunity in every disaster. The key, though, is to recognise the learning, apply it and move on without the pain of repeating the same mistakes or experiences.
3. Aim high – We increase the risk of failure if we set our ambition high and that’s a good thing. If we play it safe every day then we may well appear to be in control and to be some kind of smooth-superhuman. However, life is moving at such a pace that small, incremental steps often need to be interspersed with giant, scary, inspirational leaps of faith! We don’t always land on our feet!
4. Move on quickly – I tend to dwell on the failures only long enough to understand and learn and then I move on. In fact, I move on so quickly and so completely that I’m sure most of my failures are buried so deep that most of my brain never even recognises that they happened. It’s that essential thick skin again!
5. Be hurt but not damaged – None of us should like getting bruised and beat up when things don’t go right and it’s that professional hurt that inspires me to learn and be better next time. However, I refuse to carry with me the negative stuff because it will only get in the way.
I remember a speaker at a digital conference a few years back (Bill Thompson?) who said that statistics show that most entrepreneurs who fail at the first hurdle simply go on to fail again. The myth that failure is always good needs exploding!