Transform Failure Into Success

Written by Ashley Ball

failure leading the way to successLike a lighthouse pointing the way in the dark, failure can lead us to success. Of course, you have to ask the right questions.

Example: You, my friend, are a Master Tape Engineer. Your reputation as the King of Stick is riding on your latest project. But the adhesive you've come up with is flabby and weak, the "Before" picture among compounds. It couldn't hold two magnets together. You're flummoxed.

Rebound Advice

Can Failure Be Positive? Yes, especially if it makes you smarter and stronger.
Are you an Optimist?
Find the Positive in Failure
Only examining failure-not blaming others- can you turn them into a positive.
Instead of looking to be right, ask yourself if you're asking the right question.
An old reporter saying is... "There are no dumb questions, just dumb answers."
Two choices: Mention this intriguing development to your co-workers or keep it quiet to hide your "failure" rather than exposing it to ridicule.

If you chose option one, congratulations. You have just invented the central ingredient in Post-it Notes. You chose the second? Oooh, too bad. Your cover-up was so successful, no one knew you'd made any progress at all. And you never did find that super-adhesive. Professionally, you've come undone.

This dilemma stems from Dr. Spence Silver's story in the 3M company's Innovation Chronicles. Silver went looking for a strong bond and found a weak one. Fascinated rather than embarrassed, he shared his results with co-workers, among them churchgoer Arthur Fry.

Fry enjoyed singing Amazing Grace as much as the next guy, but he was bedeviled by the church hymnal's bookmarks. They kept falling out and making him lose his place. If only there was some way to secure the bookmark that wasn't permanent. Hey! Hello, Dr. Silver? The rest is Post-it Note history.

Failure, as this sticky little parable illustrates, is the gateway to innovation. And you don't have to be an engineer to use it to your advantage. In art, in theater, in class and in sports, the lesson is the same: In order to progress, we need to bring our small defeats into the open. Only in examining them can we turn them into positives.

In his book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, Michael Gelb writes that innovation comes when we shift our focus away from the "right answer and toward asking `Is this the right question?' and `What are some different ways of looking at this problem?'"

Gelb's view is liberating.

If there are no intrinsically "wrong" answers we have no reason to be embarrassed about our setbacks. In fact, we should celebrate them: They mean we're on the way to a breakthrough.

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