There is no such thing as failure, only feedback, and it's what we do with that feedback that determines how successful we will ultimately be.

When we fail, we have three options. 

  • We can choose to quit, which is really the only true failure
  • We can choose to ignore it, but when we do that we are flirting with madness because according to Einstein insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results, or
  • We can look at the feedback from our failures, adapt our approach and try again

Early in my career, I had a lot of failures, the worst being a $50k project I was involved in that we delivered for just over $5m. 

To say that the customer was unhappy would be an understatement

I was mortified, and I became very passionate about avoiding failures. I start looking at them more closely, to see if there were any patterns as to what was causing us to fail, which we could then look to mitigate and hopefully use prevent future failure.

The more I investigated, the more obvious it became that all of our failures were occurring because of same four reasons.   

These were we had the wrong focus, a lack of accountability, we'd made things overly complex, or we lacked transparency into what was needed and into our actual performance.  Interestingly as I started to study other failures, I found that these same root causes were also present there.

Using this feedback, I started to work on improving performance in all four of these areas.

 Sharpening the Focus to make sure we had clarity over our goals and what success looked like. When we have the wrong focus it doesn't matter how hard or how long we will work; we will just end up frustrated and demotivated by our lack of progress.

Boosting Accountability by clarifying roles, responsibilities, and  expectations of that role. This helped to get people to take ownership and better understand what was needed from them. 

Promoting Simplicity, looking to ensure we didn't follow our natural tendency to over-complicate things, keeping communication clear and simple to improve understanding. Without understanding, it leads to confusion and misunderstanding which will then cause us to fail.

Lastly increasing Transparency, making sure that by doing enough due diligence to ensure we knew what was fully involved to be successful, and having the right tracking in place to monitor progress.   

Projects are like icebergs; it's easy to see the third about the water, but it's the thirds below that sink the ship.

And if we lack transparency into our performance we can fall into the happy under-achiever trap, where we think we are doing well and but in reality we are falling short and by the time we realise this it's too late we become destined to be unhappy underachievers.

By taking this approach of improving Focus, Accountability Simplicity and Transparency, it has not only helped avoid failures, but it has also helped to achieve significantly better results.

Focus and Accountability help improve effectiveness by ensuring we have the right people doing the right job, and Simplicity and Transparency help increase efficiency by making things easier and providing feedback into performance so we can see the impact of any changes we make.

If you can increase both effectiveness and efficiency, then you put yourself well and truly on the path to success.

Using this approach it has helped me turn around failing projects, under performing departments and deliver significant business benefits, such as $50m per annum in cost saving, and operational performance improvements increasing on-time delivery from 35 percent to 95 percent.

But none of this would have been possible if I hadn't had that big multi-million dollar failure which fire up my passion not to fail again.

There is no such thing as failure, only feedback, so how will you use this feedback to benefit you and your company?