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Failure doesn’t teach a lesson without this…

My son had his eyes set on the biggest stuffed animal, but throwing the balls into the basket was not going to be as easy as it appeared. After three failed attempts at tossing the balls he looked up at me and said, "I want to try again." I could see where this was going. We would end up spending $40 on a $10 stuffed animal. Well it wasn't exactly $40, but let's just say, the carnival midway will remain in business a little longer.

After each attempt of tossing the ball, my son would make an adjustment. He tried different tosses, overhand, underhand, backspin, no spin, hit the back of the basket, lay it in the front. Each attempt taught him something and he'd make an adjustment. Besides, the only thing he was risking was Dad's money. ūüėČ

Don't Fear Failure

Why do we fear failure? Probably because there's something at risk and we're too focused on losing it. You could argue, "But if we don't try, then there's zero chance of failure, right?" Wrong. If you don't try, you've already failed.  You've missed out on an opportunity for learning and growth. I'd call that a failure.

None of us want to be seen as a failure but we have to remember what Zig Ziglar said, "Failure is an event, not a person." Too often we think failure is going to be a reflection on us. If we fail too often, we'll be defined by it. We will become failure.

According to Daniel Coyle's research for his book The Talent Code, the most successful musicians, athletes, students, all share a common trait... they relish in their failures because they can learn from those mistakes.

"You never fail until you stop trying." - Albert Einstein

With similar findings, Carol Dweck's research on what she calls fixed vs. growth mindsets shows that children with a growth mindset are open to failure because they see it as a learning opportunity. Once they learn from the event, they can try something new the next time.

Practice Won't Make Perfect

I've heard people say the quote before, "Practice makes perfect." Other people prefer the improved version of this quote from Vince Lombardi, "Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect." I personally don't think Lombardi's quote is the best for learning either. The main reason is because the focus is placed on the expectation... perfection. Learning doesn't occur by focusing on the expectation. You have to focus on something else!

"Perfection is a direction, not a destination." - Russ Peterson Jr.

Besides, I don't believe I'll ever achieve perfection (on this side of eternity) because I'm a flawed individual. But that's okay. It doesn't mean I'll ever stop pursuing it. That's why I'd rather say, "Perfection is a direction, not a destination."

Just knowing your destination (the goal or expectation) doesn't get you there. You need a plan. So where should you place the focus if you want to learn and improve? Your emphasis should be placed on the process, the process of learning.

"You just can't beat the person who never gives up." - Babe Ruth

Focus on the Process

This process is circular. Once you reach the end, you start over again. Remember what Babe Ruth said, "You just can't beat the person who never gives up."  The only time you get to exit this circle (briefly) is when you achieve success. As I said earlier, it might be success, but I doubt it's perfection. Since it's not perfection, there will always be something to learn, then adjust, and then try to improve again.

As Kevin Karschnik says, "There is no best; there's always a better." But, trying over and over can be both mentally and physically draining, so make sure you have the motivation or inspiration to change.

The Learning Process

The learning process includes 5 steps:  Try - Fail or Succeed - Reflect - Learn - Adjust

5 Steps of the Learning Process

"Trying" is Not a Final Exam

Going back to Carol Dweck's research on growth mindsets, she found that children who see "trying" as a test of whether you got it or you don't are less likely to learn and improve. In other words, the fixed mindset shows itself when the children would try something once, fail and then make a comment like, "I can't do that." In other words, in their minds their talent was fixed. It was locked in and never going to change.

Don't allow yourself to see "trying" as the final exam. It's merely a progress measurement. It's where you are today, but it's not your final destination.

What's the One Thing?

Failure Doesn't Teach... Reflection Does!

The key element of this entire process often overlooked is reflection. Whether you win or lose, time for reflection will give you the proper perspective to learn from the experience. If you failed in your attempt, take time to reflect on the experience to pull out the learning. But don't forget to reflect on your wins too!

I've been in sales my entire career and I had to learn that you can't just reflect on the failures to make adjustments for the future, you needed to stay curious and focus on your wins too!

"Failure is an event, not a person." - Zig Ziglar

There was an opportunity with a customer in California I had been pursuing for 18 months. The call from the customer came through on a Friday afternoon and Chuck told me, "You got the deal!" I was ecstatic for ten seconds and then I realized I had a question for Chuck.

"Chuck, can me and the rest of the sales team fly out there to meet with your decision committee next week?  I'd like to know why you picked us."

There was silence on the phone at first, but then Chuck spoke up. "Of course you can. We'd be happy to go over it with you."

For those first 10 seconds of excitement I had forgotten about my learning cycle. This win was a great opportunity for me to reflect on what we did well to win. With that new information, I could adjust my future sales pursuits to replicate even more wins.

Once he agreed to the meeting, I went back to being ecstatic. It was fajitas and margaritas that night!

"There is no best; there's always a better." - Kevin Karschnik

Learning is a life-long process. We don't stop learning once we graduate from school. But we do stop learning if we fail to reflect on our failures and our successes. Reflection gives us the information we need to make adjustments for the future. Don't skip it!

Still reflecting and still adjusting...


Russ Peterson Jr. Headshot

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Books referenced in this post:

The Talent Code: Unlocking the Secret of Skill in Sports, Art, Music, Math and Just About Anything by Daniel Coyle

Mindset - The New Psychology of Success: How We Can Learn to Fulfill Our Potential by Carol S. Deck, Ph.D.

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Russ Peterson Jr. is the co-founder and Managing Director of iSpeak, Inc. - An award-winning professional development training company. Russ is a speaker, international trainer, and published author on Professional Sales Communication and Business Communication. He delivers workshops, keynotes, and personal communication coaching services to business professionals in the US and around the world. You can connect with Russ directly through Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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