Monday, February 28, 2022

How to succeed by failing forward

  The best way to teach our children to succeed is to teach them to fail.

  After all, if getting everything you want on the first try is success and everything else is failure, we all fail much more often than we succeed.

  People who learn how to grow from unsuccessful efforts succeed more often and at higher levels because they become wiser and tougher.

  Two great American inventors, Thomas Edison and Charles Kettering, mastered the art of building success on a foundation of what others might call failure.

  Edison liked to say he “failed his way to success,” noting that every time he tried something that didn’t work, he moved closer to what did. “Now I know one more thing that doesn’t work,” he would say.

  The lesser-known Kettering (head of research for General Motors from 1920-1947) talked about “failing forward,” calling every wrong attempt a “practice shot.”

  The strength of both men was that their creativity and confidence were undiminished by setbacks and unsuccessful efforts. They accepted that trial and error is an essential strategy for breakthrough innovation and simply rejected the notion of failure.

  Thomas Watson, the founder of IBM, cautioned his leaders from being so careful that they never failed. He went so far as to say, ‎“The way to succeed is to double your failure rate.”

  Of course, failure is never desirable, but it is inevitable and, with a proper attitude, can be quite useful.

  The only way to avoid failure is to avoid the risks and challenges and that probably is a case of real failure. The great hockey player Wayne Gretzky used to say, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

  Whatever your goal, whether it’s to get something, do something, or improve yourself as a person or professional, the secret of success is learning to transform unsuccessful experiences from stumbling blocks to stepping stones.

  Three qualities can turn adversity into advantage: a positive perspective, reflection, and perseverance.

  First, learn from the inventors. Don’t allow yourself to think of any failure as final, and never allow unsuccessful efforts to discourage you or cause you to give up. Remember, failure is an event, not a person. Even failing repeatedly can’t defeat you unless you start thinking of yourself as a failure. The way you think about your experiences shapes the experience in ways that either stimulate or stymie further efforts.

  Second, don’t waste the experience. Unsuccessful efforts are wasted and debilitating only if you don’t learn from them. Reflect on your actions, attitudes, and results to discover the lesson within the experience and use that knowledge to guide future efforts.

  Third, persevere. Try and try again. Just be smarter each time.

  And finally, learn to enjoy the process. Simply being absorbed in the pursuit of any change that will improve your life or the lives of others is a blessing.

  Editor's note: This article first appeared in the Capital City Free Press on May 16, 2015.

  About the author: Michael Josephson is one of the nation’s most sought-after and quoted ethicists. Founder and president of Josephson Institute and its CHARACTER COUNTS! project, he has conducted programs for more than 100,000 leaders in government, business, education, sports, law enforcement, journalism, law, and the military. Josephson is also an award-winning radio commentator.

  This article was published by the Josephson Institute.

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