Failure is an Opportunity

Category: Strategy Published on Aug 24 2016

Failure is painful; failure is embarrassing; and failure is an opportunity. Yes, you read that correctly – failure is an opportunity. An opportunity that is easy to miss because all we really want to do is forget about it and move on.


But, when we fail to address and discuss those activities, projects, and events that did not work out well, we miss a strategic opportunity to learn from the experience. Our most spectacular failures, our most painful experiences are wasted if we don’t take the time to talk about them, take them apart piece by piece, figure out why they happened, and look for ways to do things differently in the future.


Why don’t we want to talk about our failures?

Frequently, they are painful and to avoid reigniting the pain, we try to forget the incidence ever occurred. However, many people won’t talk about failures because they perceive talking about them to be a negative and they want to maintain a positive outlook.


I believe it is dangerous to believe and act as if all we have to do is stay focused on the positive things and build on our strengths; that if we just think positively all we be rosy and wonderful. Reality is ignored in this approach. And the opportunity to learn from our failures is lost.


Now before you start disagreeing, let me state that I agree that it is easier to stay positive when you talk only about successes. And that it is more productive and fun to work from our strengths than to try to fix our many weaknesses. But, and this is a big but, if we ignore the failures and our weaknesses, we are failing to learn and we are looking at the world with blinders on.


The trick is to address the failures, weaknesses and other negatives in our business and in our lives as an opportunity. They are an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to improve.


To ensure a discussion about a business failure maintains a positive outlook, do not let the conversation degenerate into a gripe session, a blame fest, or pity party. Whether you are doing this alone or with a group, the following tips will help you maintain a positive atmosphere focused on debriefing and learning.

 - Describe what happened from beginning to end in as much detail as possible.

 - Focus on actions (not people) that worked and didn’t work.

 - Dissect the process to see if it addresses all possible situations.

 - Identify what changes, if any, may make the approach work in the future.


Don’t let your urge to hide painful failures under a rock or to be positively positive stand in the way of growth. Hit them head on, take them apart, and then see if they can be put back together in a way that works. And if they can’t, at least take a couple of learning points from the experience. With this approach you are much less likely to repeat the situation in the future.