Failure Is Just Part of Success

We often hear headlines about increased talented students, declining admissions rates at top Universities and frustration with the admissions process.  For example, There are about 20-30 universities that accept about 10 % or 40,000 or less of the 400,000 applications. The headline obscures some of the reality. The 400,000 number includes many multiple applications so the number of students is significantly less. Most of the unaccepted are accepted and matriculate into excellent schools. The overall success is evidenced by the fact that 80-90 % of entering students at most better schools graduate. In addition some students including Bill Gates and Steve Jobs drop out for a number of valid reasons.   

Failure is often a requirement for success. As Thomas Edison said,

We sometimes fail to recognize its value in the process of achieving success. For example, fear and uncertainty accelerate the concerns about failure. Many studies have shown that we are about twice as likely to avoid losses as pursue gains. For example, we will trade stocks with gains twice as fast as selling stocks with losses despite tax advantages for selling losses. Sports teams consistently take fewer three-point shots, steal fewer bases, and attempt fewer two-point conversions than the odds would dictate.

We frequently fail to accept the information related to making a decision. In general we accept the status quo and are reluctant to explore new information or alternatives . We also fail to consider what data we need and how to analyze to make decisions . This is particularly evident from the pandemic. 2019,2020, and 2021 are different as a result of many significant ups and downs. Supply changes due to rapid fluctuations in demand are an example 

One big reason is our aversion to losses. Thus, it isn't only risk-taking that increases failure. Recently Microsoft launched a major effort with A.I. search and Bing. In contrast Alphabet passed on the concept and allowed the developers to start their own competitor.

A key process to mitigate failure is to analyze, test, measure, evaluate and examine alternatives. Why are kids not afraid of failure and we become more afraid as we age . Just watch kids try things after they fail. I am always impressed with kids who won’t stop riding after they learn to ride a bicycle while parents learn to run again chasing after them.

There are several tools to reduce failure without avoiding success: 

·        Goals and Needs: The simplest technique is to understand the needs and goals. For example, are you willing to endure short term losses to develop long term gains? Similarly, how are much being you willing to invest in efforts like quality, customer service and people to improve the chances of success.

  • Beware Of and Minimize Bias: The greatest detractor from effective decision-making (which can be intentional, random, hidden, or even unknown) is bias. Probably the greatest source of bias is our own set beliefs, experience, and reliance on “We have always done it that way!” Thus we simply ignore information or facts that are different than our own.

·        No Pain, No Gain: In general, I recommend more consideration of the process of decision-making. How good is our information, what are the consequences of mistakes, and how much risk can we afford? I frankly believe with the exception of issues like safety, we can afford more risk.

·        Be More Open: Organizations need to be open to measurement and feedback. Observing, understanding, and sharing financials, operations reports, and sales reports are the first step.

It is interesting watching emerging industries like A.I. and electric cars in considering success and failure. Every day there seems to be a story about emerging success or a bump in the road. I suggest they are bumps in the road which may affect who succeeds but not the ultimate growth of these industries. In addition, the rewards for the winners will greatly justify the risk.

Related: Change Is Accelerating and Old Paradigms and Structures Are Failing