5 Ways to Turn Failures Into Success

It seems like backwards-thinking that in order to succeed in business and in our careers we have to go through the failures first. We’ve been conditioned and trained all of our lives to avoid failure. We’ve grown up in a school system that pressures students via a grading scale. We are told we must get good grades in order to get into a good school which will ultimately lead to a successful career. As a result, we grow up terrified of failure.

University of Louisville head basketball coach Rick Pitino said, “Failure is good. It’s fertilizer. Everything I’ve learned about coaching I’ve learned from making mistakes.”

That last sentence is so important. If we don’t learn from mistakes and failures we make, then we will simply find ourselves going in circles like trying to row a boat with one oar. We improve and move forward because of the lessons learned from failures.

In life, we have opportunities to be mentored and learn from situations. Are you taking advantage of these opportunities or are you being stubborn and allowing them to pass by? I’ve learned to not only have a daily goal to move myself forward in my career but, also, to take something (or somethings) I can learn from as many situations every day. How can we do this?

1) Don’t play the blame game

Amy C. Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School said this in her article titled Strategies for Learning From Failure:

“Failure and fault are virtually inseparable in most households, organizations, and cultures. Every child learns at some point that admitting failure means taking the blame.”

We can’t move forward and learn from our failures if we aren’t willing to stop blaming others. It’s essential that we accept responsibility for our actions.

2) Counsel with a mentor

Do you have a mentor? If so, utilize the knowledge of that person who, most likely, knows you well and speaks from a position of experience and wisdom. That person got to where they are because they’ve gone through the process of mistakes and failures. Counseling with them can minimize the number of mistakes we will make before eventually tipping the scale towards success.

3) Ask your boss or a superior

If you have a superior, ask them. They work with you on a daily basis and should know your strengths and weaknesses. Show that you are striving to improve and get better. In most cases, they will be impressed that you are willing to humble yourself and recognize that you have weaknesses and want to improve.

4) Take 15 minutes to recap at the end of the day

Very simple. Too many people take opportunities to spend time in thought for granted. We can even do this on our drive home. At the end of the day, think about the things you did right and wrong that day and how you can improve and get better.

5) Persevere. Don’t quit.

Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” That seems crazy to go through 10,000 failures before finally achieving success. Edison believed in what he was doing, though, and that he was part of a cause greater than himself. As a result, he was willing to persevere until he finally achieved his goal.

Failures are a part of the journey toward whatever success is for you. We need to heed Rick Pitino’s advice and allow failure to be the fertilizer. Just think about it… if Thomas Edison hadn’t persevered and allowed failures to be the fertilizer, there’s a chance we would be living without the light bulb today. We need more Thomas Edison’s who are willing to take the necessary steps to learn from failures and persevere until success is achieved.

How To Respond To Immovable Obstacles

Proverbs 29:1

NIV- “Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy.”

MSG- “For people who hate discipline and only get more stubborn, there’ll come a day when life tumbles in and they break, but by then it’ll be too late to help them.”

As a stubborn guy (which my wife can attest to), this verse speaks measures. It’s extremely easy to want to do things “my way” instead of listening to the wise input of others.

One of my favorite shows, Home Improvement, comes to mind when reading this verse. Every episode, it seems like, Tim Allen’s character puts himself in some type of potentially harmful situation and is warned by someone in the show not to go forward with whatever he is doing. And, as a result of his stubbornness, he ignores the warnings and does what he wants or thinks he should do anyway. The end result is, episode after episode, injuries, explosions, holes in walls, beams landing on trucks, etc. In one word…destruction. You get the picture.

There is a difference, however, between being stubborn and refusing to quit. When we face challenges, there are those who truly believe in what they are doing. Then there are the people that the NIV translation calls “stiff-necked”. Anthony J. D’Angelo said, “Never let your persistence and passion turn into stubbornness and ignorance.” People like this hold onto ideas or practices that haven’t worked in the past and continue not to work in the present. They stand in denial of a problem refusing to accept a need for change. This stubbornness is not only stiff-necked but also foolish. Furthermore, the end result is never positive and can usually be summed up in one word: regret.

In 1985, Coca Cola introduced “New Coke” to replace its original formula which had been around for nearly 100 years at the time. Sergio Zyman, the head of US Marketing who had recently launched Diet Coke successfully was the mastermind behind New Coke and saw this as a golden opportunity to reverse a 20 year market decline against Pepsi. The result was an overwhelmingly negative reaction by the American public which has since been labeled as one of the greatest marketing failures of all-time. Realizing that while humiliation was inescapable, horrendous losses didn’t need to be. As a result, they re-introduced the original formula as “Coca-Cola Classic”, a change that led to a significant gain in sales.

Some companies, on the other hand, aren’t so willing to swallow their pride and stubbornness in order to, in the end, finish the right way. On September 4, 1957, Ford launched its new division, Edsel, named after Edsel Ford on a day hyped as E-day. Consequently, this exciting launch became an utter flop as the reaction from the American public was instantly negative. In fact, Ford became a victim of reverse bandwagon marketing. It became “uncool” to own an Edsel. Even those who owned one regretted making the purchase. In an attempt to reverse this negative trend, Ford invested millions of dollars by hiring Ernest Dichter, the nation’s leading market-research analyst at the time, to help the company determine how to increase sales. In the end, the research laid out the extent of the Edsel’s troubles while offering only a few glimmers of hope for the company.

In 1959, unable to reverse the customer antipathy, Ford announced the end of the Edsel division. As a result of its stubbornness, Ford not only lost a brand but also millions of dollars on the Edsel’s development, manufacture and marketing. Total, the losses exceeded $350 million (about $2.45B in 2012 values). Unfortunately, Ford decided it was going to prove the marketplace was wrong and stuck with its mistake far too long.

While persistence and refusal to quit can be a good thing under the proper circumstances, don’t get caught being pig-headed. The French writer, Simone de Beauvoir said, “In the face of an obstacle which is impossible to overcome, stubbornness is stupid.” An attempt to overcome an immovable obstacle will only lead to regret.

So we have a choice next time we face obstacles impossible to overcome. Will we be like Coke who admitted failure and turned it into a golden opportunity? Or will we be like Ford who attempted to prove the marketplace wrong and, as a result, ended up with regret?

Paint the Target, Find Your Vision

Proverbs 29:18

KJV- “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

The Message – “If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; but when they attend to what He reveals, they are most blessed.”

Vision

In my opinion, Proverbs 29:18 is one of those verses that is taken out of context often in leadership circles. The focus of the verse needs to be God’s vision not my vision. If we are in tune with what God’s plan and vision is for our individual lives, our vision will always be His vision.

Also, God’s vision is always bigger than our vision. We all need to think bigger. We get too caught up in small things and don’t let our minds expand. We need to open up our minds. Wilferd Peterson said, “Big thinking precedes great achievement.”

I’m going to give you the Brandon translation of the verse: “Without pursuing God’s vision for our lives, we will not succeed.” And as the Message translation says, “they stumble all over themselves”. And I believe that when we are in tune with what God’s plan is for our lives, God blesses that.

How important is it, as a leader, to have vision? Leadership author Dr. John Maxwell says this in his book Leadership 101:

“Vision is everything for a leader because it leads the leader. It paints the target. It sparks and fuels the fire within, and draws him forward. It is also the fire lighter for others who follow that leader. Show me a leader without vision, and I’ll show you someone who isn’t going anywhere.”

Furthermore, while it’s so important we pursue and understand God’s vision for our lives, a vision cannot meet its optimal effectiveness without the leader’s ability to communicate it. In doing so, Patty Vogan, author and owner of Victory Coaching, says this in her article titled 5 Key Traits of Great Leaders,

“Learn to paint a picture with words. Speak it, write it, draw it, touch it. Whatever methods you can use to create a picture, do it. As they say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

That last sentence is so true. I know I “get it” once I see the picture in my mind. Unfortunately, way too many leaders and organizations have a vision but fail to communicate that vision to their people. As a result, the vision never sees its full potential.

In addition to being able to effectively communicate the vision, we also need to have passion and confidence in pursuing it. Your people will follow you until the ends of the earth if they know that you are willing to do whatever it takes to see your vision come to fruition. As the legend coach Vince Lombardi said, “Confidence is contagious”.

While looking for quotes on vision, I came across two quotes that I believe capture the essence of what I’m trying to communicate in this post that I would like to leave you with:

“Don’t underestimate the power of a vision. McDonald’s founder, Ray Kroc, pictured his empire long before it existed, and he saw how to get there. He invented the company motto — ‘Quality, service, cleanliness and value’ — and kept repeating it to employees for the rest of his life.”
–Kenneth Labich

“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes to make it possible.”
–T.E. Lawrence

Be a Diamond: Take the Road Less Traveled

Recently, I started a new exercise routine. While my goal for running is to run a 10k, my journey has begun with shorter distances in order to build up my endurance. After running these short distances for a few days and needing a new challenge, I decided it was time to bump up the distance. About halfway through my run that day, I started to hit a mental wall. The pain was coming on and I was trying to push through it in order to finish. Thankfully, I made the decision to keep going knowing full well that I would be happy I did in the end. And I was. It’s a great feeling knowing that you pushed yourself past what you mentally thought you could handle.

Out of my running that day came a leadership lesson. In our lives and in our careers, there are going to be periods of pain time. There are times when you just have to push through the pain. You don’t quit. You persevere. During these times of trials is when personal growth occurs which leads to new heights, new opportunities and, ultimately, the “potential you”. Toni Sorenson said this:

“Strength comes from struggle. When you learn to see your struggles as opportunities to become stronger, better, wiser, then your thinking shifts from “I can’t do this” to “I must do this.”

Successful people see opportunity where others see hard work and that is what sets them apart. Thomas Edison said, “We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work”. Too many people today want a handout and a free lunch. If we are going to reach our God-given potential and ultimately be successful, we have to be willing to dig in and persevere when it is least convenient.

Also, we have to learn to see the bigger picture. That requires us to think bigger. Thomas S. Monson said, “Our most significant opportunities will be found in times of greatest difficulty.” I know this is easier said than done but what are your goals? What are your aspirations? If you give up and quit when the going gets tough, will you still have a chance of reaching those goals you have set for yourself? That’s something you have to answer for yourself.

Life is never going to be perfect or easy. We are going to go through professional, personal and maybe even physical pain moments. In our jobs, we are going to deal with a situation that is less than ideal. Furthermore, we’ll probably go through a hard personal situation at some point. And when these trials happen, the easy route to take is to quit. But remember this: there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Just like diamonds are formed under extreme pressure, leaders are formed in challenging times.

Thomas Henry Hamblin said, “The world is divided into two classes of people: those who overcome life, and those who are overcome by life.” Life is going to have forks in the road. A barrier we may face is an example of a fork in the road and, in these pain times, we have a decision to make: we can go left or we can go right. As the poem suggests, my advice is to take the road less traveled.