Thursday, February 05, 2015

Dealing with Failure

I was spoiled early in my ministry by a supervisor who accepted failure as part of the learning process. I was sharing with him some of the things that I had tried that did not work and he responded, “Keep on trying until you find out what works.”

As a result of this encouragement, I embrace the quote by Dale Turner:  “To have tried to do something and failed is vastly better than to have tried to do nothing and succeeded.”

We experience failure in life.  We fail in relationships, in projects, in achieving goals, and many other ways too numerous to count.  Not to recognize our failures is a failure in itself!  The only way to avoid failure is to do nothing.  The key to moving forward is deciding what we will do with failure.  There are several possibilities.

First, we can ignore failure.  We can go blithely on our way.   In so doing, we learn nothing and keep repeating the same mistakes with the same results.  As someone said, “Practice does not make perfect.  PERFECT practice makes perfect.”

Second, we can sweep our failure under the rug and hope no one notices.  How many products have you seen that simply disappeared from the shelves without explanation?  In this situation, no one wants to accept responsibility for failure.  For those of a certain generation, consider the Edsel, for example.

Third, we can learn from our failure.  After evaluating what happened, we have several alternatives.  As due consideration, we can just drop the idea as unworkable, unrealistic, or just inappropriate.  Maybe it is just the wrong time, the wrong place, or the wrong people.  Another alternative is to take time to evaluate what happened—both good and bad—and redesign or change the project/product/event.  A few tweaks may be all we need.  Finally, we can come up with an alternative that seeks to avoid what was wrong with the original. 

Key to learning from our failures is worthwhile information and comprehensive evaluation.  This involves measures of both quantity and quality.  We can look at numbers—attendance, for example—or response.  What was the take away for those who attended?  Were lives changed?  Did you get what you expected?  Since we are often too close to be objective, drawing in others to help us evaluate a project or event is important. 

Thomas Edison is reported to have said, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.  It is not wrong to fail, but it is wrong not to try.  Where have you failed recently?

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