Fail, Learn, Improve

“The reason highly successful people fail a lot is because they learn from it. The value of failure is learning… the value of learning is you improve.” John C Maxwell (on The Knowledge Podcast, ep. 80).

No one navigates everything flawlessly. Life isn’t an action movie fight scene. If it is, I need to speak with my choreographer because I’m seeing a lot of mistakes. Everyone sees things we missed in hindsight. Embracing these failures, at whatever scale they occur, is our opportunity to learn something. Learning is how we improve. Improving is how we move towards obtaining and maintaining success, however we define it.
It’s doubly complicated when we are trying to help ourselves and those we serve in our businesses.

It’s business writing poetry to tie success to failure via learning. Actually learning from failure (and, for example, not just limping away cursing) is hard to do. We’re all stressed for our own reasons. We have too much on our plates or we’re anxious we don’t have enough. We followed our process but the outcome came out wrong and we don’t know if we should tweak it for next time. Logically we know the acorn grows into the oak tree over time, but intuitively we’re wondering if it should be growing faster right now.

The real world is messy. We know it and so do our clients. Failure, fixable screw-ups, good and bad luck – these are hard to discern between. Plus, admitting mistakes and committing to fixing them takes honest effort. Do we have time for that? We had better. Do we have time to examine processes and procedures, and then validate or invalidate them? We had better. It’s a constant balancing act to keep our actions in the present with our mindset in the future. We add value – for ourselves and our clients – when we achieve that balance.

The value of any moment, especially the distressing ones, is in the feedback they give us. Maxwell’s work is really about listening for those responses and helping those we lead to listen to them too. Whatever we are doing, we are engaging with the world. If we want to move towards success, it’s up to us to listen and learn. These are challenging times. They always are. And they are full of lessons.

Want more on Maxwell? See “Average Is Easy, Above Average Is Hard.”