Failure and Mistakes

“The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything” Edward John Phelps (1822-1900)

A senior marketing executive with a high-powered corporation, so the urban legend says, once backed a marketing campaign that went seriously awry costing his company a significant amount of money. Chastened, he entered hic CEOs office with a suitably worded letter of resignation fully intending to bow-out the honourable way (In Japan a samurai sword and some severe bowel spilling would probably have been required). To his surprise, the CEO calmly tore up the letter. “But”, said the marketing executive, “my mistake has cost the company millions!”

“Exactly”, said the CEO, “do you think I’m going to let you go now after spending so much on your education?” Absurd? Perhaps. But definitely thought provoking.

The very fact that most of us are walking around today simply means that we have made many mistakes in our lives. A baby does not learn to walk without first falling down frequently and often! Each fall can be construed as a mistake. Yet society regards mistakes as failures and those unfortunate perfectionists among us regard a mistake with such shame and horror that nothing short of sackcloth and ashes is sufficient to purge their souls.

Let’s put this in perspective. On a given day at 14h39, two people are asked the time. One replies it is now 14h40 while the other replies it is somewhere between 12h00 and 16h00. The second reply is technically correct while the first is clearly wrong out by at least one minute. Yet which reply is more useful? Clearly the wrong reply! Even a stuck or broken analogue clock will be exactly right at least twice a day!

We learn by our mistakes. Observe Thomas Edison who apparently failed hundreds of times before, by trial and error (mistakes), coming up with the exact formula of heat and light to successfully produce the basis of the filament used in modern light bulbs otherwise we would all be watching TV by candlelight.

Of course there are mistakes and MISTAKES. Being complacent about icebergs on the Titanic was clearly an enormously chilling mistake and not to be taken lightly. By and large we learn from our mistakes. Market testing and medical research are prime examples. The trick is not to make the same mistake more than once and to learn the valuable lesson offered from each mistake.

True wisdom – of course is the ability to learn from the mistakes of others, thus progressing in life, love or business without incurring too many bumps on the head from the University of Hard-knocks at which we are all (reluctant) students.

FEAR OF FAILURE and the value of mistakes
Failure doesn’t mean you have accomplished nothing, it does mean you have learned something.
Failure doesn’t mean you have been a fool, it does mean you had a lot of faith.

Failure doesn’t mean you have been disgraced, it does mean you were willing to try.

Failure doesn’t mean you don’t have it, it does mean you have to do something in a different way.

Failure doesn’t mean you are inferior, it does mean you are not perfect.

Failure doesn’t mean you’ve wasted your life, it does mean you’ve a reason to start afresh.

Failure doesn’t mean you should give up, it does mean you should try harder.

Failure doesn’t mean you’ll never make it, it does mean it will take a little longer.

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