Technology may seem like a strange place for a college president to find inspiration, but it is exactly that for me. It’s a fast-moving often unforgiving landscape. Every day seems to introduce a new app, device, or service with the hopes of setting the world on fire. Most don’t. But a few select ones will become something that we just can’t seem to live without. It’s what happens in between their start and their success that interests and inspires me so much.
While people love to talk about innovation, most people don’t acknowledge its dirty little secret: innovation is about failing more than you succeed. It’s an expensive endurance race that rarely pans out to be all that you had hoped for in the beginning. Such is the case with Slack, a popular team messaging app. It’s evolution (and raging success) was the result of how they responded and reacted to setbacks, failures, and changing marketplace demands.
Most people don’t consider education to be innovative. Though, I would suggest that there is innovation taking place. A big part our growth over the past several years at Southeastern is due, in large part, because we decided to think beyond the campus and considered ways we could deliver education online and through dispersed satellite campuses.
Almost anyone can find a reason not to do something.
When we first set out to do this, there were a lot of reasons why we shouldn’t. You’ve heard many of them before:
· “We’ve already tried that, and it didn’t work.”
· “People don’t want that.”
· “It will never work.”
· “How can we afford to pay for it?”
· “Can we recover if it doesn’t work?”
Every time you try to introduce something new, expect resistance. Anticipate reasoning that would suggest you are completely off your rocker for suggesting any time be spent considering such an idea. And when you experience that resistance, know you are in good company. No one has ever attempted and accomplished something great who didn’t first meet a line of people and reasoning that offered “proof” why just about any new idea was a bad one.
The same was true for me as we diversified our delivery mechanisms for education. It was a little rocky as we got things off the ground. We made some rookie mistakes. But it’s always like that. The key was a commitment to iterate and innovate every time we ran into a brick wall. And the interesting thing was every time we anticipated a brick wall that was sure to doom our plans, we discovered how to turn that into an opportunity to leap frog right over it.
Failure is only fatal if you choose to stop trying.
They key is not to run from your past failures but to embrace them. Learn from them. And then determine what you’ll do next. Don’t let the naysayers of your organization, church, business, or start-up tell you that what you’re considering is a waste of time, energy, and effort. Those, in fact, are very often the opportunities that will position you for an epic adventure of success, growth, and advancement.
So how do you build on your past, especially if it’s full of failure? Let me suggest five practical things to consider:
1. Separate experiencing a failure from being a failure. Just because you experience failure doesn’t mean you are a failure. The most successful people you know have failed many more times than they have succeeded.
2. Invest the time to understand what happened. Evaluate, however painful it might be, the situation so you can understand what about your hypothesis didn’t pan out. That will help you identify what to do differently next time.
3. Determine how to build on what you’ve learned. Failure is only a waste of time if you don’t incorporate what you learned into your next steps. Adjust, adapt, and stay agile.
4. Look for the next opportunity to try again as soon as possible. Don’t let analysis keep you from dusting yourself off and trying again. You experience failure because you put your ideas into action. You’ll succeed for the same reason too. Action is the only catalyst for success.
5. Rinse and repeat. Success is a game of endurance. Learn to love the process of discovering new things and covet an appetite for learning, growth, and experimentation. Those traits will keep you motivated to push through the failure to find your success.
Your life is an adventure. And no adventure would be a great one without peaks and valleys. Both are important to helping you become who you were created to be and live in your divine design.
Breakthrough doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
It happens in real life and in the midst of real world experiences. You can’t avoid failure. Instead, look at it as an opportunity to pivot and try again. You need to attempt impossible things. That’s the only way you’ll grow, develop, and become the full expression of your best self. Doing so will also unlock the power and potential of your unique giftedness to better the world and the people around you in specific and meaningful ways.
You and I can learn a lot from the technology sector. It never stops. It’s always growing, iterating, multiplying, and pushing forward. Every attempt is an experiment to build upon countless others that continue to drive toward innovation and breakthrough. It expects to fail regularly and often. But it also knows that it will eventually succeed.
Failure is proof that you cared enough to attempt the impossible. Success is proof that you failed enough to learn how to get it right.
REFLECT: Remember the last time you experienced failure. What happened? How did that make you feel? Have you allowed your past failure to keep you from trying again? Is the fear of failure holding you back from your next breakthrough?