If you’ve been reading blogs or spent time on Twitter and/or Facebook for more than five minutes, you’re probably tired of the cliché inspirational quotes about failure. You know that Henry Ford said that “failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely” and Benjamin Disraeli said “all my successes have been built on my failures.”
Okay, so “failure” is no longer a curse word. Yawn. Tech blogs and Twitter users alike love to write about how the only way to succeed is to fail first. Fail over and over again. Fail colossally. Fail famously in front of everyone, rinse and repeat.
I suppose there is a lesson in perseverance, dedication and picking yourself up by the boots in the quotes recycled around the net, but the clichés are missing the element of learning from said failures, they are missing the element of converting failure into success.
“Failure doesn’t mean you are a failure…it just means you haven’t succeeded yet,” said Robert Schuller. Aww, how sweet. But yeah, this skips about a trillion steps.
A more reasonable quote about failure is “if you’re not failing, you’re not trying. You learn how the world works when you fail.” (Dan Shipper). Shipper tells his readers to get a bag of M&Ms and start tossing them in the air, trying to catch them in your mouth in front of people. There is anticipation of failure and the fear of risking in front of others, but the end goal is usually a mastery of M&M catching. You learn how the process works by trying which is where I believe the inspirational quotes should focus- the trying, not the failing.
In additional to the focus shifting away from failing and toward trying, we should focus on the reward of risk. British research analyst and “workplace psychology wonk,” Michael Schwalbe points to the 40-30-30 rule.
Schwalbe wrote, “One lesson I learned from alpine ski racing was the “40-30-30 Rule.” During training, early on, I tried to go fast, and I also focused on not falling. On a ride up the ski lift, my coach told me I was missing the point. He explained that success in ski racing, or most sports for that matter, was only 40% physical training. The other 60% was mental. And of that, the first 30% was technical skill and experience. The second 30% was the willingness to take risks.”
Schwalbe’s coach reminded him that if he didn’t fall at least once per practice, he wasn’t pushing himself hard enough, he wasn’t trying hard enough. Note that his coach didn’t tell him, “son, good job on failing repeatedly, you’ll be a gold medalist in no time,” rather he pointed to his efforts and how hard he pushed himself.
Those who succeed in life and in business are the ones who push through the discomfort of falling on the slopes, of dropping the M&Ms and looking foolish, but they are not successful simply because they failed, but because they mastered the last 30% of taking risk, of trying, of converting failure into success.
So, let all of the Twitter experts (who last year were Realtors and the year before were phone sales people and the year before marketing consultants) share cheesy quotes about failure and continue to fail while you focus on the task of mastering the 30% and focus on the business of trying not to fail.