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Lessons from a Fail

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Have you ever had a colossal failure in your work? The type of failure that you just want to look around at everyone and yell, “Jenga!

I had one of these recently. A project failed so badly– I felt like the kid who struck out in the last inning with a man on third.

Here are a few things I try to take away from a failure:

  • Failure is statistically interesting. I’m a highly emotional person in my decision-making, but I am also typically emotional when the data backs up my theory. So when something crashes and burns that means that my data was bad. And that’s interesting.
  • Don’t cross that idea off the list just yet. One of the things I’ve noticed in companies/individuals who are failures is that they give up on a good idea to quickly. “We tried that before and it didn’t work.”  That’s a phrase you hear from people who are so afraid of failing that they are only looking for snake oil. Maybe the timing was wrong? Maybe the execution was bad? Maybe your location/placement was bad?
  • Working harder rarely significantly impacts my results. My instinct is… when the plan is going bust to just work harder and longer. But experience has taught me that holding onto a failure instead of letting it just fail is an energy burn. A failure is a failure no matter how hard I work.
  • I need to study the fail in order to get away from the anecdotal reasons to the real reasons for the failure. That typically means I have to beat some stumps and dig through some data before I can really learn from the mistake. It might end up being something simple… and it might be something complex. But until I put on my forensic glasses I’m just not learning anything.
  • A failure doesn’t make me a failure. This is where playing sports teaches you about redemption! There is a good chance I’ll be in the exact same situation again another time… not learning, recognizing, and adapting from that previous failure… that’s what makes me a failure.
  • When a project completely failures to deliver, despite my ability to adapt the plan, sometimes this reveals a God aspect. At the end of the day I can work as hard as I can or plan my best plan but if it isn’t meant to be I need to be OK with that in recognition that I’m not the author of my life.

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

2 replies on “Lessons from a Fail”

[…] adam mclane posted some great thoughts about things he’s learning from failure the other day. i’m a firm believer in failure. in fact, i loved the language that rose during a discussion i was part of a few months back with a group of youth workers: we talked about how learning from failure is so much more forming than learning that comes from success; and if that’s true, how could be embrace and “create a culture of failure” in our churches. of course, some churches have a deep culture of failure, but their biggest failure is in failing to celebrate it or learn from it. […]

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