lessons from failure

adam mclane posted some great thoughts about things he’s learning from failure the other day. i’m a firm believer in failure. in fact, i loved the language that rose during a discussion i was part of a few months back with a group of youth workers: we talked about how learning from failure is so much more forming than learning that comes from success; and if that’s true, how could be embrace and “create a culture of failure” in our churches. of course, some churches have a deep culture of failure, but their biggest failure is in failing to celebrate it or learn from it.

i’m not suggesting i’m naturally disposed to embracing failure. but i’m getting better at learning from it, and embracing it for all the opportunity it provides.

anyhow, here are adam’s insights, which i found so helpful:

* Failure is statistically interesting. I’m a highly emotional person in my decision-making, but I am also typically emotional when the data backs up my theory. So when something crashes and burns that means that my data was bad. And that’s interesting.

* Don’t cross that idea off the list just yet. One of the things I’ve noticed in companies/individuals who are failures is that they give up on a good idea to quickly. “We tried that before and it didn’t work.” That’s a phrase you hear from people who are so afraid of failing that they are only looking for snake oil. Maybe the timing was wrong? Maybe the execution was bad? Maybe your location/placement was bad?

* Working harder rarely significantly impacts my results. My instinct is… when the plan is going bust to just work harder and longer. But experience has taught me that holding onto a failure instead of letting it just fail is an energy burn. A failure is a failure no matter how hard I work.

* I need to study the fail in order to get away from the anecdotal reasons to the real reasons for the failure. That typically means I have to beat some stumps and dig through some data before I can really learn from the mistake. It might end up being something simple… and it might be something complex. But until I put on my forensic glasses I’m just not learning anything.

* A failure doesn’t make me a failure. This is where playing sports teaches you about redemption! There is a good chance I’ll be in the exact same situation again another time… not learning, recognizing, and adapting from that previous failure… that’s what makes me a failure.

* When a project completely failures to deliver, despite my ability to adapt the plan, sometimes this reveals a God aspect. At the end of the day I can work as hard as I can or plan my best plan but if it isn’t meant to be I need to be OK with that in recognition that I’m not the author of my life.

if i could just figure out how to comment on adam’s blog without registering on yahoo-something-or-other, i would have merely applauded him there. instead, his blog failure got him the opportunity to have me post it here!

4 thoughts on “lessons from failure”

  1. even with my limited experience working within the church i’ve noticed the truths of these statements. when one sees a church that struggles to make any progress, has for all intents and purposes become stagnant and doesn’t see any significant growth, has a list of ministries/activities that never changes you can be rest assured that this church hasn’t learned from failure. quite the opposite. instead of embracing the failures of the past they run from them and continue business as usual and keep the status quo. because they also fear change they keep doing what’s familiar even though it doesn’t produce any results, which for the church is changed lives, a deeper faith and deeper loving relationship with god and with those around you. instead of embracing their past mistakes and learning how not to do something, it keeps the church in this vicious cycle of being afraid to try something new in order to change lives and grow, so without changed lives the church contnues to decline and remains all too complacent with the way they do things.

    i realize that the original post primarily deals with personal failures, but for those in ministry who feel they are constantly beating their heads against a wall trying to accomplish something they have a vision and a passion for, it may be helpful to pull the focus back a little. try looking at things from the perspective of the church-at-large (your church community you’re trying to reach/minister to) and try to figure out what it is that keeps them fearful of change and being willing to try something new.

  2. This is good to read, as I’m feeling like a bit of a failure in some areas in my life right now and trying to figure out what it all means. Thanks, Marko and Adam. (Mostly Adam, but you did your part, Marko…) ;)

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