Tag Archives: learning from failure

Fun with failure

i’m a firm believer in the opportunity brought on by failure. shoot, my journey is littered with much more failure than success. some real doozies! and there is NO question in my mind that i have learned 10 times more–no, probably 100 times more–from my failures than from my successes.

of course, there are vastly different kinds of failure. off the top of my head (i wonder if someone has written a book along these lines?), i’d divide them into:

  1. failure from stupid–even knowingly stupid–choices. an opportunity to learn.
  2. failure from lack of ability. an opportunity to learn (at least about oneself and one’s limitations).

  3. failure from lack of trying. this is the worst kind, in my opinion. still an opportunity to learn, of course.

  4. failure from trying–from a risk that didn’t work out. this is the best and most noble kind of failure, i believe. in fact, i think of this as “noble failure.” most of our youth ministries (and churches) must get into a cycle of change and embrace the concept of noble failure if they’re going to survive in the years to come. The Youth Cartel tries to embrace this (though sometimes we fail!). we’ll say, “oh, yeah, that. it was a noble failure. we did our research, found a good partner, had good assumptions, but it didn’t work out. it was a great opportunity to learn.” of course, this is easier said than done.

this is really off the top of my head; but i’d love to develop this thinking further (shoot, maybe i should write a book or article called “noble failure.” or, maybe that’s someone else’s term and i’m totally ripping it off and just don’t remember!). are there categories of failure significantly outside of those four? would love your input.

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!