There was an article in HBR a while back about The Power of Positive Failure. It promoted the beliefs that we can all learn from failure, that failure gives us the chance to grow. It’s a nice article with some great examples. Check it out!
I agree with those lessons. But there’s another lesson that I didn’t think it fully explored. We must also avoid the Gravity of failure. We all talk about learning something positive, but the truth is – the normal human reaction to failure, especially when it’s painful, is to step back, avoid the pain and try a different approach. If we try at all. The challenge with that is that as fast as our world changes – that failure may become a big opportunity for success in a short time period – if we’re paying attention and ready to try again.
So what do we do when the lesson we learn from failure is to not try again? That’s not alesson we want to take forward in our businesses, or our lives. For example, let’s say my business is moving into a new market. We start to sell, only to find we really can’t win. We don’t have the specific capabilities that we need to compete, nor the volume to price at competitive levels.
So I learn that I can’t win in that market. That is a reality. At a point in time. But maybe not forever.
In this case, perhaps I can’t win because I’m not properly prepared, my product doesn’t’ have all the features, my manufacturing line needs streamlining? Did my business indeed fail in that market, or did it fail because of poor planning and preparation (or potentially rushed market entry) on my part?
Let’s take it another step. What if in the next six months that market is going to need a feature I DO have today – and I’m the only game in town? Better yet, what if that feature is worth a lot of money to buyers in that market?
If I took the lesson of failure to mean I can’t compete, then when the new opportunity comes along, I won’t be there to take advantage of it. Why? Because the lesson of “I can’t compete in that space” becomes the status quo Gravity that keeps me from being able to see and address the new opportunity.
We can and should learn from failures. We just need to be thoughtful about the lessons we carry forward.