Learning From And Overcoming Failure
Nobody wants to fail in any business or personal situation.
However, no one is also perfect, and failure is a natural part
of being human.
Despite this apparent inevitability, failure should still be
pro-actively addressed and not simply accepted in an effort to
prevent a recurrence in the future.
This approach requires recognition of the cause of failure. Such
an awareness may call for an individual or company outside of
the one responsible for the mistake, as an outsider will be able
to look at the situation more objectively than the guilty party.
The outsider is also important in case the individual or company
refuses to accept responsibility for the error.
On a personal level, failing marks in school, low or
non-acceptance from peers, or not making the varsity are some
cases that would make young individuals or students consider
In these cases, studying harder, continued training in sports
and finding out the favorites or preferences of others without
compromising oneself are the immediately obvious solutions.
Failure at work may involve an employee or several employees, a
top executive or members of the corporate board, or the company
as a whole. For an employee, failure could mean an inability to
comply with a certain company policy, perform an expected task
or meet a deadline.
One common example of non-compliance is tardiness. All companies
expect their staff to be on time, as being late would naturally
affect workflow, particularly for businesses in the
manufacturing and production sectors.
For sales personnel, closing only two deals when five are
expected would constitute a failure. A pizza delivery service
that promises a resident delivery in 30 minutes and arrives five
or more minutes later fails the waiting customer.
These three situations would probably have various reasons for
happening. Waking up late would be a common factor for
tardiness. One may say that unrealistic targets make it
difficult to close deals. A motorcycle breakdown would
definitely prevent a pizza from reaching the customer sooner.
It is also possible that the individual involved may have
non-work related issues such as a family matter or a lover's
quarrel that affect his concentration and performance.
Recognition and acceptance of whatever the reason or cause is
would mark the first step to ensuring that a repeat of the
incident is avoided. This means that the immediate supervisor or
manager must have a discussion with the concerned employee to
find out what is bothering him.
In cases where pay, benefits or a fellow employee is cited, the
manager should listen carefully and be prepared to have more
than one discussion to address the concern. This will also give
the manager the opportunity to find out if the complaint is
valid, or if the issue is possibly only a perception that needs
A bigger problem is when the CEO, chairman or other senior
executive is involved. The US has been rocked by a series of
corporate controversies starting from the Enron debacle.
Inappropriate accounting to hide debt, misuse of company funds
for personal gain and fraudulent transactions have pulled down
the image of corporate America.
These incidents were all eventually exposed, but not after
causing major damage to the company itself and in some cases, to
the whole industry or sector where the company is a key player.
The corporate scandals have led to calls for improved corporate
governance policies. The Securities and Exchange Commission and
other US regulatory agencies have tightened guidelines to
discourage firms from any irregular practice.
Companies themselves have established preventive measures,
including more detailed financial disclosures and tying up
executive compensation, stock options and bonuses to performance
targets, to deter future irregularities.
On the other hand, failure on the individual or corporate level
could also happen even after much preparation and organization
due to unforeseen circumstances or environmental factors.
Katrina and Rita forced many companies to adjust their
strategies to account for losses incurred due to the two
The preceding situations above all reflect the truth about
'learning the hard way' - sometimes, failure has to happen
before a lesson is learned. In some cases, it takes repeated
failures before learning really sets in.
The key lesson is well-presented in one of the latest
commercials featuring basketball superstar Dwayne Wade. The
Miami Heat player is shown falling several times in various
games from his college days going to his current NBA career.
Near the end, Wade is shown picking himself up after each fall,
saying that he falls seven times.. but gets up eight.