Did you hear about the MBA program offering a course on how to fail? Students are graded on how they handle setbacks in class projects. Classmates are encouraged to boo presentation they don’t like. Guest speakers recount stories of personal failures.
Why aren’t there more courses like that? As inventor Charles Kettering noted, “Failing is one of the greatest arts in the world.”
Failure, an art??? Not in today’s world! With the emphasis on productivity, failure must be avoided at all costs.
How shortsighted. Trying to avoid messing up is a sure path to mediocrity. But those aiming for Greatness never shy away from possible defeat.
Henry Ford, Colonel Sanders, Walt Disney all went broke at least once before amassing millions. Lincoln lost 7 elections before becoming president. Einstein flunked math. Babe Ruth struck out 1330 times, more than any other major league player. Elvis Presley was fired from the Grand Ole Opry.
Of course, no one likes to fail. Nor do we respond well when we do. The Journal of Personality reported that subjects who believed they failed a task did significantly poorer with a second one.
The problem isn’t the failure. It’s what we let it mean. What we tell ourselves—I’m inadequate, stupid, a loser. Rendering us reluctant to try again, preventing us from reaching our full potential.
However, if you can use failure as a chance to learn, you can evaluate what went wrong and apply the lesson to future endeavors.
Besides, failure is essential to success. Research shows that people who have the hardest time later in life are those whose initial successes came easily and quickly. They had no setbacks to learn from…or disappointments to bounce back from.
And therein lies the Art of Failing—using failure to foster resiliency, promote learning and achieve Greatness.
Here’s a classic story that explains how to hone this art. When Winston Churchill was 89, he delivered a graduation address. It took him 20 minutes to walk the 10 yards to the stage with what seemed painstakingly slow steps. Finally standing before the audience, this was all he said:
“Never give up. Never. Never. Never. Never.”
What if you used those words as a mantra, especially during tough times? Imagine what you could achieve!