Most entrepreneurs and company founders will affirm that they have had their share of mistakes, faulty decisions, and just plain failures. In highly innovative company cultures, the idea of not only learning from failure, but the experiences of failure, can be all-encompassing. Encouraging the readiness to take risks, as well as the possibility of failure, has provided society with advancements such as, the light bulb, a radiofrequency medical treatment for spine injuries, the Mini-Bot mobility device for disabled children, and the iPhone.
As long as we are not possessed by ‘success mania’, failure can be a valuable growth experience. Having the freedom to fail helps us to sharpen our competencies much better than only success. According to Craig Weatherup, retired chairman of Pepsi, “Leaders function at their highest when they constantly expand their life experiences, both on and off the job. It’s all about breadth of experiences, which is something only acquired through risk. I acquired breadth of experience by taking small and sometimes big risks, going into the unknown. You will be uncomfortable. You will understand that you just don’t know the answer, and you need to find it.”
What are the key pieces to assess for learning from a failed event? Employ these:
• Persistence. James Dyson, learned to take risks, make mistakes and used frustration as fuel for his creativity and problem solving. It took 15 years of perseverance and over 5,000 prototypes for him to finally launch the Dyson vacuum cleaner. James stated, “There’s a misconception that invention is about having a great idea, tinkering with it in the tool shed for a few days, and then appearing with the finished design. In fact, it’s usually for a longer and iterative process—trying something over and over, changing one small variable at a time. Trial and error. I wanted to give up almost every day. A lot of people give up when the worlds seems to be against them, but that’s the point when you should push a little harder. Often, just around the corner, the solution will happen.”
o James Dyson’s determination is an excellent of resolve. He had a product idea that he knew, internally, would make an impact on the total design of cleaners; as well as, impact the end-user. He used tenacity to focus his energies through all those years of design changes. An important aspect of this period is he used the miscalculations as a personal education process, not those tradationally accepted such as, from Stanford. He did not display overconfidence, but endured the experimentation process to empower critical thinking on continued work.
• Let moods of disappointment or resignation fully dissipate before you examine the facts surrounding a failed project or unanticipated outcome. Decisions can be influenced by moods. No matter where we are and no matter what we are doing, we humans are persistently in a mood. Before you evaluate the data, time period spent, or how the competition won over you, concentrate on putting yourself in an optimistic or positive mood. This can be done alone or with the team mates that went through the process with you. One exercise is to create a ‘failure wall’. Hang a blank banner on a wall, provide markers or acrylic paints and ask the team to write observations, known mistakes, or inspirational quotes that will help empty out the emotionalism that all may be holding. There should be no fear of reprisals, just a release mechanism to discharge pent up feelings.
• Study each failure. With each failure you learn a priceless knowledge that will help you become successful in the future. Reassess what software or hardware tools, delivery vehicles, or advisors that were not correct for the project or personal goal. Discard what was not really useful. Even giants such as, Apple and Coke learned valuable lessons about their products in the last two years. According to Paul J. H. Schoemaker, CEO of Decision Strategies International Inc., “People may fear failure, but they fear the consequences of it even more. The performance culture really is in deep conflict with the learning culture. It’s an unusual leader who can balance these.” Be that leader.
• Gather the experts. Oftentimes, it is enlightening to have someone that is successful, to help you examine what went askew; and, what can be done in another way next time. Having an expert give you advice will assist you to identify things that you may not have realized in the midst of the fury. Remember that replication of a previously engineered product or service is not innovative, only copy cat behavior. Bringing in outsiders who are unattached to a project’s past, or your individual aspirations, can help you shape the coming strategy for success. Don’t let pride stop you from attaining future success.

Learning From Failure