Failure is not Fatal…Failing to Change Might Be!
Noel A. Pinnock, BS, CA, CCC, MPA, CPM
Three -time Grammy® award winner, Donnie McClurkin, We Fall Down lyrics are definitely on target with this month’s edition of D-Mars, partly, because he was able to successfully capture the essence of catching, correcting, and learning from the power of failure or the errors of our ways. McClurkin wrote:
“We fall down but we get up…we fall down but we get up, for a saint is just a sinner who fell down but we couldn’t stay there…”
The incomparable William Shakespeare is infamous for saying, “To err is human.” The verb “err” means to do something wrong; to make a mistake is “to err“. “To err is human” because all people (“humans“) make mistakes. Unfortunately, we are programmed at an early age to think that failure is bad and this belief prevents individuals and organizations, alike, from effectively learning from missteps. As children, we learn at some point that admitting failure means taking blame! How can we respond constructively to failures w/o giving rise to an “anything-goes” attitude? Executives when asked, reported how many of the failures in their organizations are truly blameworthy, their answers are usually in single digits – 2% to 5% but when asked how many are treated as blameworthy, they say (after a pause or chuckle) – 70% to 90%. Amy Edmondson and Mark D. Cannon (Harvard Business School) writes:
“It hardly needs to be said that organizations (individuals) cannot learn from failures if people do not discuss and analyze them. Yet this remains an important insight. The learning that is potentially available may not be realized unless thoughtful analysis and discussion of failure occurs. For example, for Kaiser [Permanente’s] Dr. [Kim] Adcock, it is not enough just to know that a particular physician is making more than the acceptable number of errors [in misread x-rays]. Unless deeper analysis of the nature of the radiologists’ errors is conducted, it is difficult to learn what needs to be corrected. On a larger scale, the U.S. Army is known for conducting After Action Reviews that enable participants to analyze, discuss, and learn from both the successes and failures of a variety of military initiatives. Similarly, hospitals use “Morbidity and Mortality” (M&M) conferences (in which physicians convene to discuss significant mistakes or unexpected deaths) as a forum for identifying, discussing, and learning from failures. This analysis can only be effective if people speak up openly about what they know and if others listen, enabling a new understanding of what happened to emerge in the assembled group.”
You see, hindsight is always 20/20 but in order to realize the power that is produced in failure we must first be able to acknowledge it; second, analyze it; and third, learn from it. German theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein once stated, “We can’t solve yesterday’s problems at the same level of thinking we are at when we created them.” In order to get back up, as McClurkin exhorts, when we have fallen down requires a change in our beliefs as well as in our thinking because when we change our beliefs, we change our thoughts, and when we change our thoughts; we change our feelings and when we change our feelings; we change our actions. At the end of the day, top of the morning, it’s about taking action after the error, failure, short fall, opportunity for improvement (OFIs), or whatever word or phrase you find acceptable in your lexicon. Those that catch, correct, and learn from failure before others will succeed but those that wallow in the blame game will not.
Now that we know now that failure is not fatal, let’s examine what life looks like after one does encounter this inevitable dynamic through the lens of forgiveness. Forgiveness is vital force in the failure recovery process. It is vital because we can’t carry stones in our pockets and expect to run at optimal speeds. Again, Shakespeare wrote, to err is human but he also stated in the same breathe that to forgive is divine. Forgiveness is reciprocal my friends because to receive it one must give it and to accept it is to move your life progressively forward. After all, we fall down but we can’t stay there…we have to get back up but getting back up doesn’t end the process it simply begins the process of catching, correcting, and learning from the force that made us fall in the first place. So, there you have it…get at it and rediscover the power in failure, remembering that FAILURE is not FATAL but FAILING to change might be…