Redefining FailurePosted: February 7, 2013
I recently was at a TEDxManhattanBeach Salon event and a discussion between TED Talk videos prompted a response from me about failure and the need to redefine it. I had not realized that I thought differently about failure than most until it was brought to my attention with this discussion. That is part of the beauty of TEDx events, they bring very different people together to share in ideas worth spreading. So, in that spirit, I thought I would share this.
The discussion was about fear and making big changes in your life. The theme of the salon event was Work Smarter. We had watched a talk by Stefan Sagmeister on The Power of Time Off about taking a year long sabbatical every seven years rather than leaving it to the end of life in retirement.
Video courtesy of TED
It was clear that many attendees felt fear around failure and that failure is a very negative thing. The risk of change and feeling stuck were clear limits to imagining such an idea as taking a year off. The conversation turned to failure and this is when I raised my hand to contribute a comment.
“I think we need to redefine failure and change what it means for people. I would suggest that failure is not negative at all. If you are going to change or try to do anything new, it is impossible without failure. In fact, you often learn more from failure than you do from your successes when you are trying to innovate or make changes.
I would take it even a step further. I would suggest that we look at failure as a requirement for success. Success is not the opposite of failure, but failure is required for success especially if you are trying to do something that has never been done before. You cannot help but fail when you have to figure things out as you go because there is no lead to follow. So, failure really is how you figure out what does not work. Failure is required to get to what will be successful. Innovation is impossible without failure.
I am known for saying you only fail if you quit, so make sure you can afford not to quit. Eventually, your competition will die. If you can stick around long enough you will be the only one left. LOL Of course, it does not hurt to be good too.”
We went on to watch another talk by Stanley McChrystal called Listen, Learn… Then Lead
Video courtesy of TED
This led me to add, “Some failures are bigger than others. If we look to avoid all failures we risk big ones that have much higher consequences than if we accept failure as part of our process for success. By welcoming small failures along the way we can refine our approach and techniques to improve our chances of avoiding big failures that can kill people or have massively negative consequences.”
After the event wrapped up I was thinking about the discussion and realized that it is not failure that should be viewed as negative or even scary. Rather the consequences of the failures.
In fact, if we work to avoid failure at all costs and fear it, we risk our opportunities to workout and fine tune our approach and techniques prior to a time where the cost of failure is much higher. Gen. George S. Patton stated this as “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.” inspired by an old Chinese proverb saying a drop of sweat spent in a drill is a drop of blood saved in war.
If we can welcome failure as a necessary part of a process toward success we are much more likely to better our chances of success when the risks are higher and the consequences of failure carry with it much higher costs or even death. Failure is the sweat of trying. Failure is the byproduct of the effort that brings us to a better solution or ultimately to true innovation.
Applying this to a diving context is easy and is part of the Precision Diving mindset.
It is part of our approach to accept that we are not as good as we think we are. This is the foundation of our thinking as Precision Divers. We are always trying to be better this dive than the last and better next dive than this one. If we accept this, we are accepting that failures are part of our successes and a required part of the process.
To be a better diver we have to strive for allowing for mistakes and failures to occur regularly. Ideally, while we are training and in less critical environments than when such errors or failures would have truly negative consequences. We work hard on mastering ideal breathing and creating a ritual around having it become habitual or automated behavior.
The evolution takes time and mileage. We have a lot of time in the beginning where we are not using ideal breathing. It is also why we spend time learning how to regain ideal breathing and working on recognizing when we are not using it. Accepting that this process takes time, that success comes from failures, and being better able to recognize when we are not breathing ideally is critical in reaching the ultimate goal of having ideal breathing be present no matter what we are doing. More importantly, having the choice to deviate from it when we decide it is necessary to control our diving; control rather than happy accidents.
As instructors, we need to provide the room and freedom for our clients to fail and have that be okay and acceptable. Then, we can provide the tools, techniques, and support to make those failures become successes. Often, more is learned by failing than just succeeding. We can take this one step further by arming our clients to be able to think through situations and have a mental image of where they should end up. It can be very powerful for a client to self correct or solve their own problems without help.
Perhaps, we should consider praising failures especially when self corrected and help walk the client through the progression that occurred. At a minimum, take a close look at our own diving and how we present and react to failures from within and with our clients.
Buoyancy is a foundational skill in Precision Diving. We know it will take thirty to fifty dives for an active diver to become intuitive or automated with it, if they are lucky. It will take fully up to two years for all of the mindset and approach of Precision Diving to seat for a client. So, we need to provide repeated opportunities for clients to exercise foundational skills. It is the drills, missteps, and feedback we facilitate that help guide our clients through the process of refining their abilities and moving buoyancy control from the threshold of holding position within a few feet in either direction, to a few inches in either direction, to no movement in either direction. Over time, the client will own this awareness and begin to advance their refinements without us. Then, you know they have begun to arrive.
The more opportunities we can provide for safe failures or ones with minor outcomes, the better the outcome may be if the consequences of failure are larger. This becomes even more critical in technical diving applications where error chains are much shorter and the risk of adverse outcomes is much higher. Plus, the increased confidence derived from knowing you can solve problems and fix things as they happen only makes the possibility of positive outcomes even better. We want to make sure that every client has the full capability they can develop from their time with us. We owe it to them to help facilitate failure and learn from it while accepting it is an important part of the process toward confidence and success.
As Precision Divers we want not to fear failure or try to avoid it in our process toward ideal performance, rather we want to view it as a natural component on our road to success and innovating our own diving. This is not unique to diving, but likely a good lesson for us in all of our life. It has been for me.