“Never let a good crisis go to waste.” – Winston Churchill
Failing can feel anywhere from disappointing to unbearably painful. Either way, it’s an inevitable part of life. The funny thing is that often it isn’t the lack of success that actually has a lasting impact. Rather, it’s what you do in the wake of the defeat that matters.
You don’t experience failure and automatically become better for having gone through it. You must intentionally maintain a healthy perspective after being faced with a fiasco and make an effort to fail forward.
Whether the defeat is personal or professional, individual or collective, there is at least one thing (if not many things) to be learned from it. I recommend taking the following steps in the aftermath of a flop in order to learn from your mistakes and create a brighter future.
Step 1 – Experience the failure. This may sound obvious― of course you’re going to experience your own shortcomings, right? Not necessarily. Sometimes the pain of failure can trigger individuals to disassociate, shift blame, or gloss over parts of the situation that are hard to swallow.
While not constructive for our exercise, these are all natural human reactions in the face of a fiasco. This is one way our brains try to protect us from discomfort, but it can make us blind to the way things actually are. Try to look at things from an objective point of view, even in the wake of disappointment.
Step 2 – Own it. Once you’ve absorbed the scope of the failure, you must recognize the part you played in the outcome. While it might feel like an attack on your character, keep in mind that failing is natural and inevitable― no one can escape it.
You as an individual are not less-than because you tried and didn’t succeed. They say hindsight is 20/20, but you must be able to both identify your part in what went awry and see things as they truly are in order to move forward in any meaningful way.
Step 3 – Put it all out there. It’s a great feeling when you get to put your successes on display― not so much when you have to present your defeats. No matter how uncomfortable it is, it’s imperative to talk about failures openly.
These conversations should be free of shame, judgment, or alienation. The goal is to learn as much as you can from the experience in order to move forward, not to make others feel bad about themselves.
Step 4 – Seek out the cause. To get rid of a weed, you have to pull it out, roots and all. Similarly, when faced with failure you must fearlessly search for the actual cause of the issue. If you don’t address the heart of the problem, things aren’t likely to improve.
For example, say a department’s latest initiative is unsuccessful. Afterwards, instead of looking for the true cause, the team pins all the fault on one person. That person is taken off the team, but the next thing you know, another project has proven unsuccessful for generally the same reasons. See how neglecting to identify the core issue can lead directly into a vicious cycle?
Step 5 – Make a plan to push forward. You haven’t come this far in the failure analysis life cycle to keep doing things the same way. This step is where leaders have the opportunity to turn a failure into a shining future.
Please note: this can only be done after you’ve taken the steps above. If you have not a) taken an inventory of the reality of the failure, b) identified and readily accepted your part, c) spoken openly and honestly about it to others in your organization, and d) done a root-cause analysis of the situation, stop and go back!
The prior steps are imperative to collect enough insight to make an informed decision. Once you’re educated about what made things go sideways, you can create an effective strategy for succeeding in the future. While this process should be taken seriously, it shouldn’t drag on. It’s crucial to implement measures as quickly as possible to prevent the same failure from happening again.