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Extract | The upside of failure

If Michael Jordan can admit to missing 9,000 shots and growing from there, there’s a lesson in it for all of us: failure is an opportunity to improve
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First Published: Sun, Nov 11 2012. 05 35 PM IST
‘I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed,’ says Jordan. Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
‘I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed,’ says Jordan. Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Written in an easy, anecdotal fashion, 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction & Get the Right Things Done is the reminder we need constantly to organize our life around the things that matter most. It makes no tall promises about changing your life but offers practical solutions to everyday struggles. 18 Minutes, author and leadership consultant Peter Bregman’s second book, tackles problems of life and work—how to be productive, how to master distraction, gain momentum, know when to slow down and recognize your own potential. Bregman has also co-
authored five books.
New York-based Bregman founded and is the CEO of Bregman Partners, Inc., a global management consulting firm which advises leaders and their teams. He began by talking about leadership to mountaineering groups and joined consulting firms like the Hay Group and Accenture. He has worked with CEOs and senior leaders in organizations such as Allianz, American Express, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, Nike and Unicef.
In a chapter titled “I’ve Missed More Than Nine Thousand Shots: Avoiding Surrender After Failure”, Bregman discusses the importance of failure, and of challenging ourselves constantly. Edited excerpts:
18 Minutes—Find Your Focus, Master Distraction & Get The Right Things Done: By Peter Bregman, Hachette, 261 Pages, Rs 299.
Peter, I’d like you to stay for a minute after class,” said Calvin, who teaches my favourite body conditioning class at the gym.
“What’d I do? I asked him.
“It’s what you didn’t do.”
“What didn’t I do?”
You kept me after class for not failing?”
“This”—he began to mimic my casual weight-lifting style, using weights that were obviously too light—“is not going to get you anywhere. A muscle only grows if you work it until it fails. You need to use more challenging weights. You need to fail.”
Calvin’s on to something.
18 Minutes—Find Your Focus, Master Distraction & Get the Right Things Done: By Peter Bregman, Hachette, 261 pages, 299.
Every time I ask a room full of executives to list the moments their career took a leap forward—not just a step, but a leap—failure is always on the list. For some it was the loss of a job. For others it was a project gone bad. And for others still it was the failure of a larger system, like an economic downturn.
Yet most of us spend tremendous effort trying to avoid even the possibility of failure. According to Dr Carol Dweck, professor at Stanford University, we have a mind-set problem. Dweck has done an enormous amount of research to understand what makes someone give up in the face of adversity versus strive to overcome it.
It turns out the answer is deceptively simple: It’s all in your head.
If you believe that your talents are inborn or fixed,then you will try to avoid failure at all costs because failure is proof of your limitation. People with a fixed mind-set like to solve the same problems over and over again. It reinforces their sense of competence.
CEOs with fixed mind-sets will surround themselves with people who agree with them. They feel smart when they get it right. But if you believe your talent grows with persistence and effort, then you seek failure as an opportunity to improve. People with a growth mind-set feel smart when they’re learning, not when they’re flawless.
Michael Jordan, arguably the world’s best basketball player, has a growth mind-set. Most successful people do. In high school, he was cut from the basketball team. But obviously that didn’t discourage him: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
If you have a growth mind-set, then you use your failures to improve. If you have a fixed mind-set, you may never fail, but neither do you learn or grow.
In business, we have to be
discriminating about when we choose to challenge ourselves. In high-risk, high-leverage situations, it’s better to stay within your current capability. In lower-risk situations, where the consequences of failure are less significant, better to push the envelope. The important point is to know that pushing the envelope, that failing, is how you learn and grow and succeed. It’s your opportunity.
Here’s the good news: You can change your success by changing your mind-set. When Dweck trained children to view themselves as capable of growing their intelligence, they worked harder, more persistently, and with greater success on math problems they had previously abandoned as unsolvable.
A growth mind-set is the secret to maximizing potential. Want to grow your staff? Give them tasks above their abilities. They don’t think they can do it? Tell them that you expect they’ll make some mistakes along the way. But you know they can do it.
Want to increase your own performance? Set high goals where you have a 50 to 70 percent chance of success. According to the late David McClelland, psychologist and Harvard researcher, that’s the sweet spot for high achievers. Then, when you fail half the time, figure out what you should do differently and try again. That’s practice. And, as we saw earlier, ten thousand hours of that kind of practice will make you an expert in anything. No matter where you start.
The next class I did with Calvin, I doubled the weight I was using. Unfortunately, that gave me tendonitis in my elbow, which I’m nursing with rest and ice. Sometimes you can fail even when you’re trying to fail.
Hey, I’m learning.
Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com
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First Published: Sun, Nov 11 2012. 05 35 PM IST