Thanks www.ActionPhotography.ie for this awesome photo. Note I finished 8th in this gruelling mountain race (out of a field of several hundred) so this particular image does not represent failure. However, to reach that standard of competitive capability, I often trained to the point of failure during many workouts in varying degrees of pain, suffering, self-doubt and miserable conditions over the years!
People can have very different attitudes to the subject of failure and people who fail. They say that the Americans see failure as a badge of honour but that the Irish and English see those who fail as complete pariahs. These are probably extreme generalisations, however, there is some truth to them. Cultural differences definitely do exist when it comes to people’s attitudes to failure.
Personally I don’t think failure is ever ok in circumstances where the failure is due to deliberate carelessness or recklessness — especially where other people’s money was involved. However, if someone fails because of some external circumstance completely beyond their control, then I don’t think it’s fair that they be written off for ever just because things didn’t work out despite their best efforts.
For example, a lot of people involved in the transportation business in the early 2000’s got into trouble when “Allied Forces” decided to invade Iraq causing the price of oil to skyrocket. Could such an even have been forecast? Possibly. Should a small to medium sized coach or haulage company have been expected to predict and hedge against such an event? So should the owner of such a company then be labeled “a failure” if the rising prices drove (no pun intended) out of business?
It’s a funny thing but there’s not many Rugby or GAA clubs (especially not during pre-season) that will let a player get away with anything less than training to failure during a fitness session. This is the idea of putting in more than 100% effort so that there’s nothing left at the end of the workout. A similar concept exists in weight training. The logic in both instances is that athletes are encouraged to push themselves beyond what they may have previously thought possible with a view towards achieving a training gain.
Ultimately, such gains manifests themselves in the form of an increase in strength or aerobic capacity. Built on over time you end up with a fitter, stronger athlete. Caveat, you shouldn’t always push yourself, or others to failure, as it will result in eventual burnout. Nevertheless, when applied correctly, this exercise principle does form an extremely important factor in the development of atheltes.
With so many former athletes being brought out to speak about the parallels between sports and business these days you’d think that attitudes towards failure should be evolving. So why then is it still often seen as taboo to fail in business? Do we not need to do more to create a culture whereby it’s seen as ok (within limits) to fail?
No matter how calculated the risk, the reality is that most people take a massive risk anytime they try and innovate or set up a new venture. Just like with athletes, if we don’t foster an environment that causes people to go (eye)balls out from time to time, how then can we expect innovation and progress to happen?
What do you guys think? Where in the world are you reading this post and what are the attitudes to failure in your region? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!