The Paradox of Failure
Posted on 01 September 2010
The only way a person really grows and gains wisdom is by failure. If you’re going to lead, you’re going to know what it is to fail.
You heard about the guy who asked the old timer, “How’d you get so successful?” The elder said, “Good judgment.” He said, “Well how’d you get that?” The old timer replied, “Experience.” He said, “Well how’d you get that?” The elder answered, “Poor judgment.” Is there any other way? No, there isn’t any other way.
You may not always know the right decision to make, but you can know what doesn’t work by constantly taking action and making adjustments accordingly. People say they love a challenge, but what they are really after is the results. All challenge and no results makes you want to quit. And many times we stop short of our greatest accomplishments because we aren’t seeing the results we expected.
I had a Chief in the Air Force who used to love to debate the relevance of “street smarts” versus “book smarts” and which was more critical to completing the mission. There is a great deal of knowledge that can and must be gained by reading and hearing about and studying the actions of others. Advanced degrees can also give the graduate enhanced writing and communication tools, vital requirements to success in any field.
I intentionally took on many jobs in my career where the challenges were formidable. There were times when outside consultants were employed to help us meet a goal, solve a problem, or implement a new management strategy. There is a danger in this, however. The problem with someone who only has “book smarts” is that they may not have achieved the results you are ultimately after. Get input from people who have done what you want to do. Talk things over with people who have paid the price your organization needs to pay. But do not listen to anyone who hasn’t done what you want to do or hasn’t paid the price you want to pay.
Failure is intensely personal. You can look into someone’s eyes and hearts and see if they’ve achieved success the only way possible, by earning their “stripes”. My Dad used to say, “Things don't go wrong and break your heart so you can become bitter and give up. They happen to break you down and build you up so you can be all that you were intended to be.” I can’t think of a better explanation of the paradox of failure.