Failure! Can we learn from others, or do we need to fail?

May 2, 2016

Failure is something many leaders try to avoid, but it can be a great opportunity to learn valuable lessons. What if we could avoid our own personal failure by learning from other people’s failures? Is that even possible? If we study other people’s failure and apply what they learned to our personal situations, we could save ourselves lots of time, money, energy, and heartache. On the other hand, learning from other people’s failure may lack the effectiveness and emotional impact as the lessons we learn from our own personal failures.


Many mega-successful leaders have shared their personal stories about how their failures have been the difference-makers between being average and being great! Their lessons-learned from their personal failures catapulted them to a level of greatness, and they have documented many of the details of their failures. Yet far too many of us take advantage of their failures.


So, can we learn from other people’s failures and bypass the personal pain and agony, or must we experience failure for ourselves to get the full benefit and learning value? I’m convinced the answer to these two questions is “yes, and “it depends!”


Throughout my life I’ve experienced many things go through the “full-circle effect.” This is when a process is working great, but somebody decides to make a few changes to “make it better.” Before you know it, the entire process is totally different. Then, after about 3-5 years and 6 revisions, the original process is back to where it started… hence the “full-circle effect.” The main problem with the full-circle effect is that we don’t learn from past failures, and/or we don’t bother even looking. Why is it that failures of others don’t have the deep impact as personal failure? Why is it that our curiosity drives us to try things we know have failed for somebody else? If I were to narrow it to one word, it would be PRIDE… simply put, we think we can do better!


There’s a very good chance that you can find a “failure-to-success story” with step-by-step details that is very similar to your “unique” situation. If you take the time to read the story and personalize it to your situation, you can save yourself the agony of failure, all while capitalizing on somebody else’s failure.


However, the funny thing about human nature is that we often wonder “what if…?” What if we try things for ourselves (even though we know somebody else failed)? We are wired to try things even after seeing that somebody else has already failed doing it the same way. People try this over and over again… and although most times they fail, sometimes they actually succeed! Why is that?


The key to learning from other’s failures all comes down to value and respect. If we value and respect the person who failed, we are more prone to accept their failure, learn from it, and apply their lessons-learned to our personal situations. If we don’t value and respect the person who failed, we will look at their failure and instantly think we can do it better, because we are not them!


Learning and applying the lessons-learned of other people’s failure, can allow us to bypass the same failures and turn the situation into a win-win for everyone involved. We learn from the past and we satisfy our curiosity and “what if questioning” by applying the lessons-learned of others to our situation. As a minimum, we start off way ahead of where we would’ve started if we hadn’t applied the lessons-learned from other’s failures.  


Run to your Challenges!  Failure can be devastating to many leaders; however, it doesn’t have to be. Instead of avoiding failure, embrace it—both the failures of others and your own. The cool thing is that as leaders, we have all failed, and failures may be an opportunity for greatness… even the failures of others. Apply the lessons-learned from other leader’s failures to your personal challenges, and begin maximizing your efficiency in many areas. Don’t be afraid to feed your curiosity by trying things that others have failed at; however, alter your plan of attack accordingly based on other’s failures… who knows, it may just be your opportunity for greatness!


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