The Doyle Report: What Failure Can Teach Us About Success

The Doyle Report: What Failure Can Teach Us About Success

The lessons Atlanta can teach may be more telling that the ones New England will share.

It’s unlikely that ‘ole man winter can spoil the New England Patriots Super Bowl LI victory parade, despite the fact that rain and sleet are in the forecast. After an historic comeback, people in Boston are going to celebrate like there’s is no tomorrow.

But what about those in Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Atlanta and beyond? Many will be thinking about things that might have been for months if not years to come. Why? Perhaps Dallas Mavericks owner and ole friend Mark Cuban summed it up best in this Tweet after the game: “If you see [Falcons owner] Arthur Blank or any Falcon player, thank them for a great year. The pain of losing is far greater than the joy of winning.”

Which brings me to this: if you can bear the pain, you can learn volumes from defeat. Failure, in other words, can be an invaluable teacher. Thomas Edison was famous for many things but among them was his take on learning from setbacks. When asked about his failed attempts to perfect the incandescent light bulb, he said, “I have not failed 10,000 times—I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.”

Vacuum mogul James Dyson has said similar things about the marvels of trial and error.

In modern parlance, these two inventors demonstrate what is now fashionably called “the virtue of grit.” Psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth gave a TED Talk on the subject that has been viewed more than 10 million times. We can learn from our setbacks, in other words, and achieve if we persevere.

Years ago I wrote a piece on “Why VARs Fail.” The participants shared their personal stories.

Some companies failed because they took on too much debt, especially at the onset of an economic downturn. Others misread market transitions. Instead of moving too slowly, I found several pioneers from the “applications services provider” (ASP) era who moved too quickly. (My takeaway: don’t move into a nascent market until there is both customer readiness and technological maturity.)

If you do some research, you’ll find that a lot of people have studied “failure,” which is ironic given the old expression, “success has many fathers, while failure is an orphan.” As it turns out, the disadvantaged offspring attracts great interest.

The Harvard Business Review has examined the topic several times. Accenture, too.

Rather than strategy, most companies that fail stumble when it comes to execution. Others have poisonous or unbending cultures. And still more lack capable leadership.

Even promising companies fail. According to the Kauffman Foundation and Inc. Magazine (as reported by Fortune) two-thirds of fast growth companies fail.

The bottom line on failure? It’s brutal when it visits, unending and even rude. But if you muster the will to learn from it, you can achieve amazing things.

It will be interesting to see what the young and determined Falcons learn from Super Bowl LI. If they can bear the pain of self examination, they can fly higher than before. 

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