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How To Fail Better By Reflecting On What Went Wrong

Failing better means trying and trying again, but with a difference.

Leah Weiss

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“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

— Worstward Ho, Samuel Beckett

Physical, emotional and mental learning all depend on non-judgemental pauses for realistic self-appraisal, re-mindfulness of our intentions and rededication to our purpose.

At some point in recent history, this bleak and somewhat obscure line from existentialist playwright Samuel Beckett became the motto of the new entrepreneurialism. It isn’t clear if it was business mogul Richard Branson, self-help author Tim Ferriss, tennis pro Stanislas Wawrinka (who has ‘Fail Better’ tattooed on his arm), or someone else who first adopted the term, but somewhere along the line the business crowd embraced it. Perhaps because ‘failure’ sounds grander than ‘mistake’. Perhaps because so many start-ups that failed out of the gate went on to become household names.

In any event, this Beckett prose piece became a popular catchphrase, first in the tech world and now in just about every sector.

People have always made mistakes and sometimes tried to learn from them, but the entrepreneurial embrace of the ‘fail better’ philosophy suddenly put defeat on a pedestal, making it a cause for celebration.

Heroes who failed on the way to success

oprah-winfreyAn abundance of anecdotes and examples was found to affirm this ethos: Winston Churchill failed the sixth grade. Ben Franklin’s inventions didn’t always work. Early in her career as a television reporter, Oprah Winfrey was fired. History is full of persevering heroes who failed on the way to success.

Related: Beauty Of Failure: The Art Of Embracing Rejection

In a recent article he posted to LinkedIn, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen wrote that Microsoft might not exist if he and Bill Gates hadn’t failed with their first company (a traffic data analysing project called, naturally, Traf-O-Data).

“While Traf-O-Data was technically a business failure,” Allen wrote, “the understanding of microprocessors we absorbed was crucial to our future success. And the emulator I wrote to programme it gave us a huge head start over anyone else writing code at the time. If it hadn’t been for our Traf-O-Data venture, and if it hadn’t been for all that time spent on UW computers, you could argue that Microsoft might not have happened. I hope the lesson is that there are few true dead ends in computer science. Sometimes taking a step in one direction positions you to push ahead in another one.”

‘Fail better’ captured the spirit of the start-up business culture

As ‘fail better’ achieved meme status in Silicon Valley, where it captured the spirit of the aggressive optimism and disruptive thinking beloved by start-up business culture, the irony of the expression’s original and famously pessimistic coiner, Samuel Beckett, was lost on most. In the backlash, however, some non-literary critics dismissed ‘fail better’ as wishful, or even reckless, thinking.

Mindfulness acknowledges both these points of view. From a Buddhist perspective, ‘failing better’ means acknowledging human imperfection and accepting that failure is part of the learning process — if we give people room to learn. Failing better means trying and trying again, but with a difference. Reflection makes the difference, and not just in Silicon Valley.

Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino has researched the role of reflection in the workplace and found that it is worth the time not only in the wisdom it generates but also in the productivity that emerges.

One of her studies, which she conducted at the IT firm Wipro in Bangalore, India, examined how providing structure for reflection and for sharing about work impacted follow-up on various tasks. The researchers studied several groups of employees in their initial weeks of training for a particular customer account and divided them into three groups: the control group, the reflection group and the sharing group.

Reflection and sharing enhance lessons learnt from failure

In the reflection group, on the sixth to the sixteenth days of training, workers spent the last 15 minutes of each day writing and reflecting on the lessons they had learnt that day. Participants in the sharing group did the same, but spent an additional five minutes explaining their notes to a fellow trainee. Those in the control group just kept working at the end of the day and did not receive additional training.

Over the course of one month, workers in both the reflection and sharing groups performed significantly better than those in the control group. On average, the reflection group increased its performance on the final training test by 22,8% compared to the control group. The sharing group performed 25% better on the test than the control group, about the same increase as for the reflection group. In addition, the participants who had been put in the reflection group (rather than the practice group) “improved their likelihood of being in the top-rated category of all trainees by 19,1%.”

Related: Flourishing Through Failure And Finding Fortune

The same researchers also studied whether people appreciate the power of reflection, and they learnt that when given the choice, 210 out of 256 participants opted to get more experience and only 18% chose to have reflection time. Reflection is clearly valuable but it isn’t necessarily valued.

Just like pausing before we jump into something (which is what we do when we set our intentions), pausing after we have jumped into something takes only a moment, but has a profound impact. We pause not to slow down, necessarily, but to re-perceive our thoughts, emotions and context with fresh perspective. Practice makes perfect, perhaps, but in practice we also see how far from perfect we are.

Similarly, when we try to be more compassionate, toward others or ourselves, we also notice how we’re not; and when we care about suffering in the workplace, we realise that we often don’t know how to make things better. It’s like the physical assessment you have with a trainer when you first join a gym, testing your body to see where it is weak, as part of the process of building strength.

Physical, emotional and mental learning all depend on non-judgemental pauses for realistic self-appraisal, re-mindfulness of our intentions and rededication to our purpose. Sometimes what we see in these moments isn’t what we’d hoped for. But, instead of viewing our failures as evidence that we suck at our jobs or that we are worthless as people, we can choose to approach them as evidence that we are engaging, that we are working at it and that we will get there.

Acceptance of failure is a necessary part of innovation

With all the talk of embracing failure, there is less talk in corporate culture of reflection, but that’s just what Severin Schwan, CEO of biotech giant Roche, touched on in a 2014 interview with Reuters entitled For Roche’s CEO, Celebrating Failure Is the Key to Success. In the piece, he emphasises the need to foster acceptance of failure as a necessary part of innovation.

“We need a culture where people take risks, because if you don’t take risks, you won’t have breakthrough innovation,” he said. But, he also went on to suggest that it’s important for managers to praise people for the nine times they fail, not just the one time they succeed. Schwan even takes his direct reports out to lunch to celebrate their failures. Rituals like this offer an opportunity for reflection.

The person who encouraged me to attend my first-ever meditation retreat, a mentor I had known since childhood, told me that transitions were the times of the day to pay the most attention to, for example, when you are moving from morning to afternoon, from one project to another, or from work to home. She told me not to think of the cushion part of meditation as the main event but, instead, to notice the thoughts and habits that come up when we’re not meditating.

When we pay attention to the transitions, the spaces in between become their own instruction.

Leah Weiss, PhD, is a researcher, professor, consultant and author. She teaches courses on compassionate leadership at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and is principal teacher and founding faculty for Stanford’s Compassion Cultivation Program, conceived by the Dalai Lama. She also directs compassion education and scholarship at HopeLab, an Omidyar Group research and development nonprofit focused on resilience.

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Lessons Learnt

Jimmy Choo’s Co-Founder Explains Why There Are No Small Jobs

Tamara Mellon shares the strategy that has helped her find new opportunities throughout her career.

Nina Zipkin

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tamara-mellon

The co-founder of Jimmy Choo, Tamara Mellon, believes that you can find inspiration and opportunity anywhere. All it takes is determination to keep going and a keen eye for observation.

Mellon began her career in the early 1990s working as an accessories editor for British Vogue. Always on the hunt for up-and-coming designers, she came across Jimmy Choo, a cobbler working in London’s East End.

She would commission him to create shoes for fashion shoots. They were so well received by readers that the pair realised they could expand beyond one-of-kind pieces for the pages of the magazine.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Lessons Learnt

6 Habits Long-Time Millionaires Rely On To Stay Rich

It’s a simple fact: Most millionaires have different habits than the average person. However, these habits are far from inaccessible; they improve one’s odds of finding success but can be adopted by just about anyone with a bit of concerted effort.

Timothy Sykes

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jack-dorsey

To take that idea one step further, once someone has become successful, how do they stay successful? Here, I’d like to take a slightly longer-sighted look at the habits of millionaires, focusing not just on the habits that make them successful but the ones that help them stay successful over time. By cultivating these habits in your own life, you’ll be investing in your own sustained success over time.

Here are six habits of long-time millionaires:

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Lessons Learnt

(Infographic) The Early Failures Of The Most Successful Billionaires

To help inspire readers who are frustrated, or worse, too anxious about the possibility of failing to try to chase their dreams, here is a list by GetVoIP that highlights some of the greatest success stories, and how it wouldn’t be possible without their greatest failure.

Reuben Yonatan

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steven-spielberg

If at first you don’t succeed, try try again. You’ve heard the phrase all your life, but how often did it actually inspire you to actually, well, try again? If you’re going to be a success, you’re going to meet with rejection or a significant loss a dozen times over before you “make it.” The one thing that major successes in business (not to mention politics, entertainment, and most other endeavours), have in common is the ability to pick themselves up after a failure and take what they’ve learned from it to their next venture.

Success is never a straight line from one to ten. It’s a roller coaster of small victories followed by defeats that seem twice as big. In the world of sports, the list of undefeated champions is very short. For every iPhone there’s a Newton. For every Star Wars, there’s both a Howard the Duck and a Star Wars Holiday Special.

Overcoming obstacles and reframing failure as just one step along the path to success is crucial to continued success in today’s business world. Failure is part of the experience of trying something new, and sometimes it won’t work out as well as you’d hoped, but the experience teaches you something that will be invaluable later on. That may sound pat or trite, but that’s the lesson you’ll hear from nearly every public figure you admire.

You’ve probably heard that Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.” But here’s something you don’t hear nearly as much: As many accolades as “The Great One” has made, in his best year (1983) his shot percentage was 26.7. Think about that. The biggest name in hockey missed three out of every four shots he took in the best year of his career, and in five years he missed nine out of ten.

Related: The Top 25 Self-Made Billionaires In the World

Failure Is a Necessary Journey

Here’s a similar statistic: Gordon Ramsay, a man best known for turning around failing restaurants, has owned 42 restaurants in his career—and 16 of them have closed. And who can forget that Halle Berry won awards for being both the best and worst actress in the same year?

Failure is part of the journey, and you are in great company if you fail at something you were sure was going to change the world. So, by all means, take your shot. And if you hit the mark 25% of the time, you can consider yourself a huge success.

To help inspire readers who are frustrated, or worse, too anxious about the possibility of failing to try to chase their dreams, here is a list by GetVoIP that highlights some of the greatest success stories, and how it wouldn’t be possible without their greatest failure.

billionaire-early-career-failures-infographic

Related: 6 Unlikely Characteristics Common Among Billionaires

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