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How Failure REALLY creates Success!

Jun 26, 2008
"One must be God to distinguish successes from failures" Anton Chekov.

Risk aversion has become the primary guide by which most businesses continue to approach highly dynamic markets. The result is a struggle to perform in today's markets. In sharp contrast, those that continually outperform other businesses are perennial risk takers. They become the true innovators who move business forward. True innovators know that it becomes impossible to distinguish success from failure.

One prime example of this is computer guru Bill Gates. He dropped out of Harvard Law School to the dismay of his mother, Mary. She saw this move as a disastrous failure and for years he had nothing to show for it to prove anybody wrong. In the meantime he was working on a fledgling idea we now know as Microsoft.

We are often overly hasty in describing something as a success or failure, coming to conclusions when, in fact, the jury is still out. It is important to remember that "failures" often lead us to the deep learning from which great ideas emerge. Far from being night and day opposites, the line between success and failure is, in fact, indistinct.

The line between success and failure is often very thin. It is not the black and white of western philosophy, but rather, the grey of twilight before a dawn of a wondrous possibility. It may be more helpful to think of both success and failure as cohorts, or siblings, they are both part of the whole and cannot be found without each other.

Sometimes our western minds have a hard time grasping this concept. All too often western philosophy drives minds to see things as two distinct terms; such as black or white, big or small, tall or short, yes or no, and so on. Eastern philosophy sees things as a more relaxed partnership. They embrace the dance of the two opposites as a paradox of life, natural and inexistent without the other. This can be seen in such terms as sweet and sour, ying and yang, and other duel conceptions. Instead of a crisis, therefore, all things are simply an opportunity.

When Success is Really Failure Disguised: Success that is short term is really just making a huge failure. The quick fix is usually just a patch that backfires when reality resurfaces. This idea can be illustrated with a cyclist who gets a puncture on their tire. Most would approach it with an "Ah-Ha" moment and simply patch it up. Then simply get back on the same road and continue toward their goal. The road, however, is very bad and continues to puncture the tires more and more until the cyclist ends up with a very unusable tire. However, they are so far down the road that going back is now out of the question, and going forward is just as bad. The shortcut road is now an epic failure.

An Innovation Approach: Japanese Samurai: Innovation is not a topsy-turvy unpredictable path that seems to lead straight into nowhere. It is a highly valuable and learned skill that must be mastered. Therefore, if you truly want to be mentored simply look to the Japanese Samurai for direction. Their life style and philosophy to life can provide examples of this art.

Samurais were well known for their effectiveness in battle, and their bravery in the field. They are also known as being the fiercest and most determined warriors that ever lived. The secret behind their success is the mindset that is central to their actions. They were centered, grounded, and they used that to guide their actions.

They simply recognized that focusing on victory would impede their abilities to win. They honed a rather invaluable skill of constantly being in the present. The will to win, then, was not the vision of winning; it was all the moments up to the point of victory. Their creed was that of achieving the goal by ignoring it.

The vision may be as large as Microsoft, or IBM, or may be one of their successful products, but the most anyone can see is the next step. The most important part of reaching our goals, then, is to bring our attention to the present moment. While it is okay to take a short glance at the future or past and apply them to the present, the key is to keep our mindset in the present.

The enemy is looking into the future for what might go wrong or relying on the past for what will go right. The goal, therefore, is intended to be made and then filed away. Once you learn to let go of the goal you will learn to free up your mind to generate the steps to reach it. It may seem that some steps are irrational, but these must be taken. The greatest innovation were not based on what worked before, but were built on the known factors that needed to be taken as risks and that had to be acted on with a gut instinct.

Collaboration and Input: Any great goal requires a great team. This means that collaboration, speaking up, listening to new ideas and looking at it from another's prospective will achieve the greatest final performance. A prime example would be the philosophy found at IBM, "The greater the level of collaborative innovation, the greater the financial performance. This requires acquiring the skills needed to work together as one. Leave the leadership desires at the door, and collaborate to come out of top.

Sometimes what seems to be the most massive failure was really just a step closer to the fantastically great innovation. Case in point was the original computer. They were large, bulky, and could only calculate data. If the designers had stopped there, we never would have been able to use the greatest usable interface device yet, the home computer with internet. We would still be using snail mail. It is only by embracing failures that we can turn them into innovations that lead to successes and thereby build towards our goal.

To master innovation you need to release yourself from the fear of failure and the need to succeed. In fact, an outcome orientation to innovation is the killer. If you or your team has a pattern of needing to be sure of your outcome you will only generate the kind of caution and paralysis stops you from ever achieving great results.

To truly embrace success you need to consistently work on developing a culture that is founded on reinvention. Only in consistently evolving to the needs of the company and the changing economy can you succeed in reaching your goal.

Businesses need to take a lesson form our children; there are some great things they can teach us. The biggest is that of having an open mind and being able to receive and send a vision, constantly looking at the world with a fresh eyed wonder. They simply cast aside entrenched beliefs, taboos, habits, patterns, belief systems, and strongly rooted thought habits.
About the Author
About the author: Rha K. Cardinale is an expert at transforming organisations and to create a culture of innovation . Visit the "Great Leadership" website for more great ideas on building innovative teams
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