Fa­tal fail­ures to ster­ling suc­cesses

Hindustan Times (Chandigarh) - Guide - - JOB FUNDAS -

Gauri Ch­habra

“Few of our own fail­ures are fa­tal," econ­o­mist and Fi­nan­cial Times colum­nist Tim Har­ford writes in his new book, Adapt: Why Success Al­ways Starts with Fail­ure.

Seems paradoxical? In fact through­out our lives we have been con­di­tioned to suc­ceed. Fail­ure is taboo. It starts with the school with our par­ents and teach­ers par­rot­ing in­for­ma­tion into us feed­ing us with only one goal in life – to stand first , to stand out. Fail­ures are scorned upon and re­buffed. It in­stills in us a deep rooted fear of fail­ure and we treat fail­ure as fa­tal. An­other en­emy of all of us that lives in­side us is the three let­ter word ego. It feeds on us killing us to the very core. When­ever we fail, our mis­takes stare us in the face, we of­ten find it so up­set­ting that we miss out on the pri­mary ben­e­fit of fail­ing the chance to get over our egos and come back with a stronger and smarter ap­proach.


When it comes to fail­ing, egos are our own worst en­e­mies. As soon as things start go­ing wrong, our de­fence mech­a­nisms kick in, tempt­ing us to do what we can to save our face. Yet, th­ese very nor­mal re­ac­tions -- de­nial, chas­ing your losses, and he­do­nic edit­ing -wreak havoc on our abil­ity to adapt. It seems to be the hard­est thing in the world to ad­mit we've made a mis­take and try to put it right. It re­quires you to chal­lenge a sta­tus quo of your own mak­ing. An­other re­ac­tion is we're so anx­ious not to draw a line un­der a de­ci­sion, we re­gret that we end up caus­ing still more dam­age while try­ing to erase it. For ex­am­ple, poker play­ers who've just lost some money are primed to make riskier bets than they'd nor­mally take in a hasty at­tempt to win the lost money back and erase the mis­take. Or still we en­gage in "he­do­nic edit­ing," we try to con­vince our­selves that the mis­take doesn't mat­ter, bundling our losses with our gains or find­ing some way to rein­ter­pret our fail­ures as suc­cesses.

Adapt to adept

To be adept at some­thing and change the fail­ure to success, we must first adapt and use an ex­per­i­men­tal ap­proach to suc­ceed. The more com­plex and elu­sive our prob­lems are, the more ef­fec­tive trial and er­ror be­comes. Be­fore we take a de­ci­sion or come up with a great idea, we can­not pre­dict whether our "great idea" will ac­tu­ally sink or swim once it's out there.

So the best way is to do it and then work to­wards mak­ing it right. Risk­ing fail­ure is the first step to­wards success. You need to make your ego adapt to a sce­nario where ev­ery­thing does not turn out the way you ex­pected it to be. There might be in­stances when you have a downslide of one fail­ure af­ter an­other till you hit the rock bot­tom. And be­lieve me this is es­sen­tial coz this is also the ground for lay­ing a solid foun­da­tion where there is only one wayup. So in­stead of go­ing on a guilt drive or on a self­de­nial route, this is what you should do:


Ex­pose your­self to lots of dif­fer­ent ideas and try lots of dif­fer­ent ap­proaches on the grounds that fail­ure is com­mon. Look for ex­per­i­men­tal ap­proaches where there's lots to learn - projects with small down­sides but big­ger up­sides. Too of­ten we take on projects where the cost of fail­ure is pro­hib­i­tive, and just hope for the best.

It is al­ways bet­ter to swim in shal­low wa­ters be­fore plung­ing in deep seas.

Recog­nise fail­ure

This is the eas­i­est to state and the hard­est to stick to: know when you've failed.

This is the hard part. We've been trained that per­sis­tence pays off, so it feels wrong to cut our losses and la­bel an idea a fail­ure. But if you're truly self­aware and lis­ten­ing closely af­ter a re­lease of your idea, you can't go wrong. Be­ing able to recog­nise a fail­ure just means that you'll be able to re- cast it into some-

thing more likely to suc­ceed.

Seek feed­back

Above all, feed­back is es­sen­tial for de­ter­min­ing which ex­per­i­ments have suc­ceeded and which have failed. Get ad­vice, not just from one per­son, but from sev­eral. Some pro­fes­sions have built-in feed­back: re­views if you're in the arts, sales and an­a­lyt­ics if you re­lease a web prod­uct, com­ments if you're a blog­ger. If the feed­back is harsh, be ob­jec­tive, take the venom out and dig out the real ad­vice.

Do not fall in love with your idea

It's im­por­tant to be dis­pas­sion­ate: for­get whether you're ahead or be­hind and try to look at the likely costs and ben­e­fits of con­tin­u­ing from when you are.

Don't get too at­tached to your plan. There's noth­ing wrong with a plan, but re­mem­ber the fa­mous dic­tum that no plan sur­vives first con­tact with the en­emy. The dan­ger is a plan that se­duces us into think­ing fail­ure is im­pos­si­ble and adap­ta­tion is un­nec­es­sary - a kind of "Rime of the An­cient Mariner"--when you only re­alise you have failed the ice wash here, the ice was there, the ice was all around. Be­ing able to recog­nise a fail­ure just means that you'll be able to re- cast it into some­thing more likely to suc­ceed.

Prac­tice in pri­vate

It has been said, "The best fail­ures are the pri­vate ones you com­mit in the con­fines of your own room with no strangers watch­ing."

One of my friends who wishes to im­prove her com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills does this: She rises as 5:30am and video­tapes her­self speak­ing what­ever comes to her mind three hours each morn­ing, happy if she ex­tracts just 30 sec­onds of us­able ma­te­rial from the whole tape. This is a great ex­am­ple of a safe space to fail. But many of us don't have this lux­ury of time or free­dom.

As­sum­ing that you don't op­er­ate a nu­clear power plant for a liv­ing, you can prob­a­bly in­fuse a bit more free­dom and flex­i­bil­ity into your work­day. Give your­self per­mis­sion to test out a few off-the-wall ideas mixed in with the by-the-book ideas. Also try to prac­tice a num­ber of things that di­ver­si­fies the risk and the hurt too. Just make sure you do not di­lute the ef­fort.

Ex­plore many ideas and then weed out those that fall short. Plu­ral­ism works be­cause life is not worth liv­ing with­out new ex­pe­ri­ences. Try a lot of things, and com­mit only to what's work­ing.

Stay young

Re­mem­ber your col­lege days… ev­ery day had a new be­gin­ning that started with ex­per­i­men­ta­tion. We were con­stantly ex­per­i­ment­ing with new friends, a new city, new hob­bies and new ideas - and we'll of­ten mess up aca­dem­i­cally and so­cially as a re­sult. But we know that as long as we don't screw up too dra­mat­i­cally, we'll fin­ish col­lege, grad­u­ate, and move on - that mix of risk and safety is in­tox­i­cat­ing. Yet some­how as we grow older we lose it. No mat­ter what age and stage of life you may be, never lose its fresh­ness and youth. Tell your­self, "It is per­fectly al­right, no heavens are go­ing to fall, even if I fail." Then and only then you will be able to con­vert fa­tal fail­ures to… ster­ling suc­cesses. (The writer is a Pun­jab- based ed­u­ca­tion coun­sel­lor with 12 years of ex­pe­ri­ence. She can be con­tacted at gau­ri_­nag­[email protected]­hoo.com )

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