Sunday, June 01, 2008

Know yourself ....

Every year I speak at numerous conferences to thousands of people and yet I often suffer from self doubt.

The reason why I suffer so, is because I hate failure and whilst I might have succeeded at many things, I have also failed many times. Each failure is a tiny cut in my memory and every now and then it will flash back and make me wince.

However, I know that I suffer with this mental affliction and I know the root causes of it, which for me is half the fight won. Because of this knowledge, I am able me to look back at those events and understand why I failed.

The ability to deal with and understand failure is important because whenever you try to do something new, the first battle is always with yourself. In life most people are their own greatest obstacles.

Retrospection is an incredibly powerful and yet often under used tool, especially in management. A key element of such analysis is honesty and for this reason it is ineffective in a company setting unless there is a culture which embraces failure. Without such a culture people will hide failure, they will spin it and the truth will often be buried.

Unfortunately, failure is often seen as a bad thing even though failure is the normal result of trying to do something which is genuinely new. Whilst common and well defined activities, such as the phones working when your company moves offices, will only fail due to incompetence, building the world's first of something should be expected to fail despite best efforts.

Excluding managerial incompetence, how well a company embraces and adapts to failure is a sign of how innovative a company is. A willingness to accept failure requires extraordinary strength of character whether in an individual or an organisation. This is sadly lacking in many organisations as they often parade misunderstood concepts of success and openly frown upon the concept of failure. Anecdotally it would appear that the result is almost always the same - the stifling, suffocation and eventual death, first of innovation and then, finally, of the organisation itself.

Embracing failure is an essential ingredient for long term success. In other words :-

"If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to.
If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you cannot achieve."

Lao Tzu