This semester I am taking the hardest class I’ve ever taken, but truly an interesting insightful class. It is called International Development and it is part of my International Studies major here at American University. My crazy German professor is extremely lively and passionate about his field and it captivates everyone’s attention at an early morning class. Recently, we learned about a practice that is truly admirable. Engineers Without Borders Canada publishes a manuscript every year called a “Failure Report” that documents all of their unsuccessful projects throughout the year. This is a method they use to keep accountability within their organization high, but also boosts their credibility. They are confident and honest enough to publish all of their shortcomings to the world and this in turn earns them points with their donors and the larger NGO community. In Give Smart by Tierney and Fleishman they advocate for donors and NGO’s to take the time and resources to reflect on their successes and most importantly their failures often. It is this frequent reflection that allows the good to become great.
In assessing failures and successes there exists a difference between successful failures and failed successes. This may vary according to each individual, but here’s my opinion on the difference between the two. However, before exploring successes and failures it is important to talk about what constitutes a success and what constitutes a failure. This may change according to each project and each entity’s own values, but it is nonetheless important to define what success would look like early in the planning phase of any strategy. Now that success and failures are defined we can talk about successful failures and failed successes.
One of my life passions is soccer (aka football). In soccer the world renowned clubs such as Barcelona, Manchester United, and AC Milan are expected to win at least one competition a year. Barcelona FC is arguably the best team at this moment in time boasting the likes of Pique, Xavi, and FIFA’s Player of the Year four times Messi. Despite, this amazing lineup Barcelona failed to win any major competitions in the 2011-2012 season. They won the domestic cup, but failed to win the league and the Champion’s League. As a result, they received heavy criticism for their lack of results. Failing to win these titles translated in the leaving of the head coach Pep Guardiola leaving the team completely distraught. However, under the newly promoted head coach Tito Villanova they reflected on the past failure and reworked their system. This season Barcelona has all, but won the league sitting a comfortable 13 points ahead of second place Real Madrid. Additionally, they have progressed to the semifinal of the Champions League and have a significantly good chance of winning that championship. If Barcelona had allowed for the slump of the 2011-2012 season affect their performance this season then their failure would have been simply a failure. But since they learned from their prior shortcomings and regrouped this experience can be considered a successful failure.
A failed success is the opposite of successful failure. Failed success is when a person or a group succeeds, but learns nothing from the success. In popular culture there are countless instances when a singer gains fame and allows for the success to change their personality and fail to consistently deliver the same quality of music as their first successful album. In 2005 a new rapper called The Game released his debut album The Documentary. Hyped with the support of his friend and superstar 50 Cent, The Game’s reputation preceded him and he was expected to not only emulate the success of 50 Cent, but some even believed that he would surpass his fame. After a few disagreements and conflicts with 50 Cent and several other rappers The Game disappeared from the rap industry and although he attempted various times to regain his prominence never re-attained his fame or lived to his initial potential. This is an instance of failed success because The Game gained success, but was not able to replicate his success and instead horribly underperformed. Although failure is often viewed negatively in American society successful failures allow for growth and therefore are oftentimes more beneficial than failed successes.
You learn more from failures than successes.
Explain the difference between a successful failure and a failed success. Do you learn
more from successfully failing or failing successfully? Please explain.
Throughout the year, our program has met highly successful people ranging from American University deans to the former United States Secretary of State, Colin Powell. Although some of us may have entered the program believing that the greatest lessons we would learn would come from our successes, I think it’s safe to say that we have all learned that our greatest lessons come more from our failures. Throughout the failures, we have learned what actions to avoid or what barriers we must circumvent, which have ultimately led to us outnumbering our failures with our successes.
Chapter 6 of Give Smart, addresses a question we should constantly ask ourselves: Am I getting better? Without knowing the answer to this, we cannot learn to adapt our methods in order to yield the best results. Tierney and Fleishman however, acknowledge that getting better does not only include the short-term gains. In fact, the most important part about getting better is to foresee the impact the short-term gains have on your long-term gains.
Give Smart also discusses how self-improvement isn’t such a black and white task. Instead, it’s a continuous effort that we must all take in different ways. Moreover, because improving isn’t black and white, we must enter it acknowledging that there are risks we must take and that the risks we take don’t have guaranteed successes.
Not all of the opportunities for learning we come by prepare us for improvement. For example, learning that improves our ability to make wiser decisions about our strategy and the execution of our strategy, prepares us more for accomplishment. On the other hand, if we try to learn only by the results we anticipate, we may find ourselves getting off track and confused.
Another way to learn is by understanding the failures of the people who surround you. People, who have experienced things before you, are able to advise you on what actions to take or avoid in order to evade their same failures. This is why mentoring is so crucial to learning, because it provides outside insight for possible successes and failures that you may not have thought about.
A successful failure is a failure that has taught you some sort of life-long lesson. So for instance, last summer I did not have as many summer plans as I hoped, because I failed to apply early. It was a successful failure, because I learned more about what exactly I wanted to do during my summers and how my only flaw was my lack of time-management. This summer, I now have various summer plans to choose from because I took into account what I learned last year, and applied much earlier this time.
A failed success is perhaps best described as a ‘success’ that according to the individual hasn’t reached its full potential. I think we shouldn’t be afraid of making failed successes, because oftentimes our failed successes bring a better change for others. So if extending my vision to reach a larger population falls short in only successfully reaching a smaller group, I wouldn’t be entirely upset about the failure, because I was still able to improve the lives of some people. This of course is a type of success I believe many doctors come must accept. Although many aspiring doctors want to rid the world of disease or help everyone, the reality of it is that an individual person cannot help everyone in the world.
Although in the past I have learned from both failing successfully and successfully failing, I believe I learn more from failing successfully. I learn more from this type of failure, because it helps me to learn to accept my failures as the past and occasional reference them help me avoid the same failures and thus gain more successes.