Redefining Failure to Unleash Growth

2018 is already looking like a great year – there are so many things to get excited about. But what a better way to get it started than being part of the great altMBA program that I’ll be joining in January. As soon as I got my first warm up exercise, I jumped straight into it: “Write a one page actionable summary on a book of your choice.”

In 2016 my library got big, I was obsessed with researching and buying good books – I now have more than 1,000 books. My goal this year was to read 30 books. And I’ve read many books that I really enjoyed, but one book that really stood out for me was the Black Box Thinking: The Surprising Truth About Success, by Matthew Syed.

I’m adding here a book summary and my thoughts on the importance of redefining failure to unleash growth.

black box thinking


A society obsessed with success

We are all obsessed with success. Our values help us shape and define what success looks like in business, career, personal life, and even in the lives of people we can reach and influence. We chase success so desperately because it makes us feel good. It feels good to know that we have been right all the way. The fact that we stuck to our goals and hard work validates our thinking and gives us the opportunity to share with the world all the positive changes that our minds can drive.

At the same time, and even more so, as a society, we are obsessed with failing – Fail early and fast, Fail often, Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly, etc.

At some point, I even started tracking all my failures in a spreadsheet, alongside with my successes, like they are equally important and like I should be ‘pursuing’ them both in order to keep a ‘balanced’ life. We all crave security, but we also know that neither failure nor success are constant – not accepting this would mean resisting change. At the same time, bouncing from one failure to another or chasing successes like we are on a treadmill could be equally dangerous.

Failing is natural, it’s life – even so, we tend to avoid and fret about failure, we don’t embrace it. We fear failure simply because it hurts. It hurts to admit to ourselves that we have been wrong – and we didn’t manage to turn our egos and realities in the right direction at the right time. Once we realise that we failed, we are quick to make the experience forgotten, we don’t allow enough time for the lessons to be learned. The way we think about failure can drag us down or push us forward.


Failing is overrated

Failure tends to be more public than success, mostly because we react differently to somebody’s failure story.

I believe that falling is overrated. As a champion of life-long learning, I think that learning and growth are much more essential, especially when recovering from failure, but also when working towards success. To unleash growth, I think it’s important to redefine to ourselves the notion of ‘failure’. Key questions to ask: Would failing 100 times on the same thing make you a loser or an expert? Would failing 100 times on different things make you more experienced or a just waste your time?

Failing should help to put things in perspective and help re-evaluate the things that matter the most.


Redefining failure should be a personal, inner journey 

Here are the key steps that work for me and I’d highly recommend:

  1. Give yourself permission to fail.
  2. Give yourself time to learn and recover from failure.
  3. Give yourself a very good chance to bounce back bringing with you all the lessons learnt.

To keep my focus on the journey, I’ve now started keeping track in the spreadsheet of my monthly learnings and small milestones across my chosen growth areas. I don’t really like spreadsheets, but I do like my little spreadsheet – it’s had its own history and transformation. It helped me realise that more than focusing on successes and failures, I want to be spending my time on learning and growing into something better and wiser than I was yesterday.

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