Posts Tagged ‘failure’

Black box thinking

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

I listened to a fascinating program today which talked about making and learning from mistakes.  Regular readers will be familiar with my thoughts on the importance of learning from mistakes and avoiding a blame culture.  It is said that the secret to being a successful entrepreneur is to fail often and learn every time you do.  It is a well known truism that if you have never failed then you have never really tried or lived!  Matthew Sayed, author of “Black Box Thinking: The Surprising Truth About Success” says that in the airline industry, they are committed to investigating and learning from every single mistake so that they never need to happen again.  People’s lives are at risk and any failure is international news, so failure is very costly.  The key is that there is a culture of honest investigation and procedures are modified to make them more robust.  By way of contrast, in medicine it is very hard for a surgeon to say “Oops…I messed up”, so they hide behind the veil of medical complexity and “These things happen”.  Thus no one truly investigates as mistakes are brushed under the carpet.  In politics, policies are stuck to as a sign of strength and vision, and you can’t say, “They are not working, lets try something else”, this is deemed weakness, rather than wisdom.

I ask you, which environment would you sooner work in or be served by?

Starting over

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

I was out walking the other day I came across this.  The picture isn’t quite as clear as I thought, so let me explain what I was looking at.  This is a stump of a tree that has been blown over and its trunk sawn off.  Growing over the stump is a colony of fungi, and from the root stock fresh growth is springing up, drawing nutrition from the old root system.  It is a fabulous example of how Nature uses resources and adapts. 

As someone who had to start over when my life was metaphorically ‘blown over’, I can relate to this.  You have to use what you have left and grow again.  It may feel like everything you had was destroyed but those systems continue to try to nourish you and, if you let it, new growth begins.

It is common for very successful people to fail multiple times before getting it right.  In the US they are more forgiving of this and understand that evolution works in the business world just as much as the natural one. 

If today you find yourself in a place where it feels like there is no possibility of going on, that everything is in ruins, then perhaps you can take a little faith that no matter the disaster there is a way forward.  Look to your roots; what is it that makes you strong?  Grow from that place and you will find your way forwards.


  1. Famous ‘failures’

Plan B

Monday, February 28th, 2011

All the management books, coaches and gurus seem to be telling us that we have to make plans…. Hell, this morning I was in just a session with my clients!  “How are you going to do that?”  “What will you do if it fails?”  “Who could help you?”  “What’s the alternative?”  So I guess I can’t rail against the idea of plans.  However, there is a downside… They give you an illusion of control.  I suspect that is one reason that they are so popular.  After all, if you have a plan and are on-track you must know where you’re going.. .right?

The problem comes when your plan goes of the rails.  Time for Plan B… do you have one?

The trouble is before you can press the button to activate it, you have to accept that the first one didn’t work and that is never a pleasant experience.  In fact, sometimes it can be so hard that we won’t admit it, even to ourselves and deny ourselves the chance to pull the rip cord in time.  Plans give you hope, and that is hard to abandon.

Oh well, in the words of the old song, “Dust yourself off, brush yourself off and start all over again..”

A successful man?

Friday, December 25th, 2009

I was listening to Michael Caine talk on Desert Island Island Disks this morning.  I am a big fan of his acting, especially in his latter years.  Although he is 19 years older than me, I was a teenager when I saw him burst onto the movie scene as Alfie.   So my years of my growing up and growing older have paced his incredible career via Harry Palmer, the anti-Bond and Charlie Croker in the Italian Job through to a horrible trough of The Swarm.  By the mid-eighties he found his mojo again and made films like Sweet Liberty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.  In his later years, when others’ careers might have faded, he has just got better and better in films like Cider House Rules and Secondhand Lions, and he was a perfect Alfred in Batman.  Not bad for a lad from Rotherhithe, the son of a charlady…

So as I was listening to him talking, I wondered why he had been so incredibly successful and wondering what that might be like.  Which took me to the question “Well, are you a success?”   Now that is one heck of a question for 9.0 am on Xmas morning!  By comparison with Sir Michael, it is hard to put oneself in the same category; but then few are.  So… do I feel successful?

Well, on the basis that I have achieved most of the key goals I set myself as younger man, then I guess so.  I may not be a national treasure  but I have three fabulous, healthy children, a wife who (despite it all) sees and loves me, a home I love, and job that fulfils me.  I’m not sure what I’d change, other than perhaps just ‘dialling up the volume a bit’, and that seems a reasonable test of success.

It is a pretty big question.  We all want and need to feel like a success; to be the hero in our own movie.  I’m interested to hear how you would measure success.  It has serious implications for Change in business too, as people will avoid experiencing failure and if your program is not design or managed well enough to give them a reasonable belief that they can succeed they won’t ‘play’, and you will fail.

“Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it, So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember that’s where you will find success.”   Thomas J. Watson

“The successful always has a number of projects planned, to which he looks forward. Anyone of them could change the course of his life overnight.”   Mark Caine

If at first you don’t succeed…

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

Today I was out with a friend looking for somewhere to eat.  We went to a local restaurant that we often go to, only to find that it was not only rather full, with people queuing and no bar staff, so we decided we wouldn’t wait.  I made a number of suggestions but we opted to just see what we could find.

The first pub we came to we had both eaten in before, it was ok, but nothing special and again was full of people having Xmas lunches.  We got back in the car.

The next one was completely new to us, it had “Est. 1650” painted on the wall, but was strangely modern inside.  Again it was busy.  The menu seemed ok, but smacked of being over written, and I suspected the reality would not live up to its promise.  Back in the car.

We arrived at a prize winning Asian restaurant… closed!  Brmp, brmp..

We headed homewards, past the first restaurant.  Next stop was a nice new fish and chip emporium which we wanted to try “Sorry we have stopped serving lunch sir”… and on to the Indian next door …Closed!

So at about 2.15 we went into a restaurant that used to be a fire station and had a wonderful spicy pizza… mmmm… just right!

I know it was all rather a palaver  but we did end up in the right place.  Sometimes one just has to say “NO” if it doesn’t feel right and try again.  It can be a bit trying at times, but allowing the Universe to take a hand and listening to one’s inner voice is a good way to surf the waves of Change

A five step plan to save you £5,000,000,000,000

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

Apparently the various world governments have now invested £5 trillion in propping up the banking system. That is a huge amount to invest in failure. I’m not suggesting that it isn’t required but would suggest that is worth pausing to consider that it isn’t only governments that can invest in failure, we all can. So often, when we have made a mistake, rather than seeking to learn from it and so avoid it in future, we can find ourselves justifying our actions, defending them and feeling that it “wasn’t our fault”, so we don’t need to change!

If you find yourself today, drifting down this path, STOP!

  1. Accept that we all make mistakes
  2. Forgive yourself
  3. Ask what can you learn from this
  4. Ask what steps you can take to ensure that you don’t need to find yourself here again
  5. Move on!


“Being happy doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. It means that you’ve decided to look beyond the imperfections.”