What Does Failure Look Like (And How Can It Lead To Success)?

I wrote a post about success a short while ago.  The context there was the Federer vs Murray Wimbledon tennis final and the significant achievement of a British player almost winning the Championship’s singles trophy.

James Dyson

James Dyson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think it is worth spending a few moments thinking about the lessons that not being successful can offer.  My view would be, to paraphrase Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘What does not kill you makes you stronger.’

Funnily enough I was talking about the principle of if-at-first-you-don’t-succeed with the owner / manager of a take-away restaurant recently.

We were speaking days after Spain won the Euro 2012 tournament.  England’s performance was dogged, Group A winning, but not ultimately successful.  It suggested there was room for improvement.

I think the take-away manager and I decided that in the UK failure often brought out a response of, ‘Well what did you expect?’ or perhaps, ‘It isn’t worth trying again”.

In the US and elsewhere the attitude is more “Hey never mind.  I know it didn’t work out, but what are you going to try next?”

So there’s the background.  It can take a lot of self-belief to miss a goal and use the experience to improve.

Here’s an article exploring these themes further, written by the entrepreneur and inventor Sir James Dyson.  I can’t find fault with his observation that “Success takes time, patience and perseverance”.


Thinking more broadly there are parallels to performance in the sporting world too.  Here are some thoughts about what it takes to reach the Gold medal standard.


I like Track Cyclist Victoria Pendleton ‘s comment that, learning lessons from not reaching a goal, entails “having a robust self-esteem with an identity that is not too defined by performance results so [you] can maintain [your] emotional stability and work out how to improve.”

Which sounds a lot like Sir James Dyson’s reflection, “Failure is painful, but it spurs on improvement like nothing else.”

I think those are timely insights for Athletes, Innovators, or Regular Folk like the rest of us.

There May Be Trouble Ahead

English: The diagram above represents a generi...

English: The diagram above represents a generic framework for risk management. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The fictional head of the Twenty Twelve Olympic Deliverance Team, Ian Fletcher, would have been quietly scathing had a hapless contractor failed to produce the promised level of security staff days before the Opening Ceremony.   What a nightmare for an Olympic Chief with days to go before the Games begin.

Olympic Chief – “So are you telling me, the Head of Olympic Deliverance, that your firm managed the risk of not delivering the full quota of 12,000 fully trained and equipped staff – at the right venues, at the right time – by basically, crossing your fingers?”

Hapless Contractor – “In strategic terms, utilising our end-to-end ‘recruitment to deployment’ process we should have provided the full roster of staff at each venue, as per our contract.”

OC – “Well, thank you for that answer to a question, in all fairness, I haven’t actually asked.  Turning now to your risk management strategy on this contract.  What would you say that consists of, in a nutshell?”

HC – “In a nutshell?  Being honest?  (Pause) That would be pretty much be what you said. Sorry”

OC – “There you go.  With crossed fingers who needs Risk Registers?  Well. It’s all good.  Luckily there are some uniformed staff not doing much, ahead of the big day.  Aside from brushing the dust of Afghanistan off their boots, seeing their families and so on…”

Coming back to the reality, it’s scary to think that a major contractor thought they could use their standard project planning methodology to seamlessly deliver more than 10,000 staff to 2012’s principle sporting tournament.

Looking at that goal rationally it is a huge challenge to accomplish that outcome on time, without having any experience of successfully completing a project that size, without a carefully tailored approach.

Far from enhancing their reputation for professional delivery this contractor may have placed greater scrutiny on the way they deliver on their other contracts.

I don’t think they will earning a place on the winners’ podium this year.


Sharing Your Goals (Or Not)

English: Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby and ...

English: Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby and Muckwork. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am chipping away at my 2012 ‘To Do’ list of Goals and Good Intentions.  Maybe you are too.

Perhaps you are actually speeding through your list, completing your tasks in less than the time you allocated yourself.

If that doesn’t sound like your experience there are several approaches you might take to get more done.

How about doing the grimmest item first (I think the approach is inspired by Brian Tracy’s Eat That Frog principle)?

Alternatively it is tempting to focus on the essential items only.

You might even have thought the easiest motivator is to tell your partner, or best friend that you aim to do X task by Y date.  That pretty much ties your hands.

I’ve found a short TED presentation by Derek Sivers in which he offers his opinion on why that last solution may not actually help.  He also suggests how you might want to tackle more goals, successfully.


Good luck whichever route you choose.  Now, which vegetable goes better with an amphibian main course, rice or potatoes?

What does success look like?

Andy Murray

Andy Murray (Photo credit: Carine06)

Even if I had the right skills at 25 years of age I could not have held my own against Roger Federer as Andy Murray did in SW17 yesterday.

Going up against a skilled older professional, in a grand slam tournament, in front of an audience of millions, takes some mental stamina.

Andy didn’t win, but to my mind he also did not fail.  He lost, that’s all.

He was successful in reaching his first Wimbledon final.  My sense is that he will have learned from the experience and will come back stronger next time.

Maybe it is me, but some of the language in the press coverage – Murray was ‘beaten’ and ‘denied’ – seems to put across too negative view of his achievement at Wimbledon this year.

Hopefully his coach Ivan Lendl will celebrate his experience on Centre Court this year.  Playing in the final will take him one step further toward his ultimate goal.  Who would bet against Mr Murray winning an Olympic medal, or the Wimbledon Championship sometime in the future?


English: folded turtleneck

English: folded turtleneck (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I started working in an office (late 1989) one of the first bits of training I received was a video presentation of ‘the office of the future’.


You could tell it was meant to be a futuristic vision since the workers were all wearing polo necks, rather than shirt and tie or blouses.  They strode around purposefully and they sat at uncluttered desks, tapping away at computers, efficiently.


The point of the training video was to get me and my colleagues to think about what the streamlined workplace of the 21st century would look like and how productively we would be as workers in that environment.


Naturally a big part of that more efficient, productive future would be that the office was paper free.


I remember thinking at the time, that part of the vision seemed unlikely.  Where would all the paper go?  How brave would you have to be as a manager to say to the Big Boss ‘No, we don’t need to print anything out.  It is all stored on the computer’?


Fast forward two decades and paper is still everywhere.  Even working environments where there is a shared electronic records system, rely on people printing off copies of big reports, or long letters.  However good the screen, it remains difficult to read anything lengthy online, let alone amend it.


The BBC’s technology programme ‘Click’ shows what paperless-ness might look like.  Don’t worry, I think there is still some time before it gets here.  And in case you were wondering there is not a polo neck in sight.



The Best Team Ever?

Vicente del Bosque, Coach of the Spanish natio...

Vicente del Bosque, Coach of the Spanish national football team Español: Vicente del Bosque, seleccionador de la Selección de fútbol de España Português: Vicente del Bosque, treinador da Seleção Espanhola de Futebol. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From my experience in work I think one of the keys that helps unlock a team’s talent is an understanding of how individual’s strengths combine when they work together.

Beyond the workplace I think I can see why the Spanish football team are winners in Euro 2012.  Team Spain may have been criticised for being ‘boring’, but they produce reliable, quality results.  It is difficult to argue otherwise with their other achievements including the European Championship and the World Cup.

Now the Euro 2012 trophy is theirs, after a 4-0 triumph over Italy in Kiev, what is one of the secrets of their success?

According to their coach Vicente del Bosque, Spanish footballers “know how to play together”.  Speaking in a post-victory BBC interview he added:

“…I didn’t really want to be the coach who wins but the coach who educates. I want to keep preparing [the team] for the future…”

There are some strong messages for workplace leaders in that clear sporting philosophy:

–       Understand how to get the best out of individuals working together

–       Educate them in key skills

–       Prepare them for the future

I wonder how many bosses will want to dig a little deeper, and perhaps integrate those messages into their leadership strategy?

More details about how the winning Spanish team performed are available on this link.


Three Things I Have Learned In 2012 (So Far)

As the second half of the year has arrived I am in stock taking mood.  In no particular order here are three of the things I know a bit more about now, than I did six months ago:

–        Some providers of goods and services are good at creating an accessible, welcoming feeling for customers new to their brand (yes WordPress, I’m talking about you)

 –       Effective project management techniques can produce good quality, timely results for the non-profit sector, just as they do in the commercial world – www.hoestreetfirst.wordpress.com shows that is the case.

–       It is a challenge to mobilise volunteers for community projects at the best of times.  During a period of austerity it is harder.  Understandably they are focusing on finding / keeping a job; financial security; family time.  Hats off to the folks who do get involved and whose contributions do make a difference.

Some Lessons Are Harder Than Others

From my experience making mistakes seems to be part and parcel of being human.

The 2011 riots in England involved quite a few people making mistakes, getting involved in crime and being punished for their errors.  Usually it doesn’t take a brush with the criminal justice system to make person assess where they are in life, versus where they want to be.  However, with a bit of thought, even serious mistakes can become learning opportunities.

This link to a BBC news story shows that principle in action.


“Please Select the Option You Require From The Following Menu…”

Congratulations, you have decided to make that change you have been thinking about for ages.  Now what?  There isn’t an automated helpline you can ring up to talk you through the next steps.  So, what sort of options are open to you?

Professor Richard Wiseman – author of the self-help guide “:59 Seconds” – has a few suggestions which may help.  An outline and some comments – of variable quality – about outcomes versus process are available on this web link