Last week, I mentioned about one vital principle for profiting from your failure, and I suggested Properly Assess Your Failure. Today, I add up three more.
Learn on someone else’s nickel
Many intelligent business leaders make major mistakes that cost their companies. For example, at the online grocer Webvan Group Inc., we found that the executives became more interested in fast growth than the quality of service provided, leading to the company’s demise. The trendy department store Barney’s assumed that consumers in the Midwest would purchase the same style of clothes as customers in New Your and ended up closing a number of its outlets. While most business courses dissect successful companies, some of the best learning comes from studying the things that go wrong.
Studying things that go wrong can provide invaluable insight into every area of life. Solomon, the wisest men who ever lived, illustrated the importance of learning from other people’s mistakes, “I passed by the field of the sluggard and by the vineyard of the man lacking sense, and behold, it was completely overgrown with thistles; its surface was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down” (Prov 24:30-31).
As Solomon was taking his morning stroll, he couldn’t help but notice the condition of his neighbor’s property. The yard was overgrown with weeds, and the fence around the property had fallen down. Had Solomon been like most of us, he would have responded in one of two ways. He might have become angry and said, “I am going to send a complaint to the homeowners’ association. This guy is hurting my property value.” Or he might have responded with pride: “I would never allow that to happen to my home.” But instead of becoming angry or prideful over his neighbor’s laziness, Solomon chose to learn from it, “When I saw, I reflected upon it; I looked, and received instruction. ‘A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest,’ then your poverty will come as a robber and your want like an armed man” (Prov 24:32-34).
What did Solomon learn from his neighbor’s failure? Solomon gleaned the lesson about life, “The wise man will learn while there is time. He knows that the sluggard is no freak, but as often as not, an ordinary man who has made too many excuses, too many refusals, and too many postponements. It has been as imperceptible, and as pleasant as falling asleep.” When you see someone fail in his marriage, his business, or his relationship with God, whatever you do, don’t gloat over his failure. The Bible warns, “Those who rejoice as the misfortune of others will be punished” (Prov 17:5).
Equally dangerous is to ignore someone else’s failure by saying, “That could never happen to me.” Again the Bible warns, “If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall”(1Cor 10:12). Instead, Solomon encourages us to learn from another person’s mistakes. Ask yourself these questions when you see someone else fail: What wrong assumptions, attitudes, or habits led to his downfall? Have I adopted some of those same assumptions, attitudes, or habits in my life? What can I do differently to avoid the same pitfall?
Instead of churning over failure, start learning
Failure isn’t really failure if you learn from it. However, to profit from our failures we need to take time to carefully analyzer our mistakes so we don’t repeat them. Analyzing failure correctly requires that we ask the right questions of others, ourselves, and God.
Questions to ask others. You have one or two close friends who know you well enough and care about you deeply enough to tell you the truth. Prov 12:15 reminds us that “the way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.” Here are some questions to ask close friends after you have experienced failure: Why do you think I failed? What wrong attitudes or assumptions do you think led to my failure? If you were I, what would you have done to avoid this mistake? Who could provide me wise counsel to help me recover from this failure?
Questions to ask yourself. Consider scheduling a conference with yourself to ask some probing questions, including: Have I really failed or just fallen short of an unrealistic goal? Is my failure primarily the result of other people, adverse circumstances, or my own wrong choices? Whom do I know who has made the same mistake and recovered from it?
What positive lessons have I already learned from this failure? Has my relationship with God been a priority in my life?
Questions to ask God. Remember, no one knows us better or wants to help us more than our heavenly Father. It only makes sense that we should ask Him for assistance in analyzing the cause of our failures. James 1:5 promises, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”
There is no way to overestimate the value of asking the right questions. Charlie Steinmetz was the engineer who designed the power generators for Henry Ford’s automobile plant in Dearborn, Michigan. After Steinzetz retired, the generators quit working, and Ford asked for Steinkzetz’s help. Steinmetz came into the plant, fiddled with a gauge, pressed a couple of buttons, jiggled a lever, and then after a few hours flipped with switch, and the generators began humming again. A few days later Henry Ford received a bill from Steinzetz for $10,000. Ford thought the bill was outrageous and responded in a note, “Charlie: It seems awful steep, this $10,000, for a man who for just a little while tinkered around with a few motors.” Steinmetz responded with a new, itemized bill and sent it back to Ford. “Henry: For tinkering around with motors, $10; for knowing where to tinker, $9,990.” Knowing the right questions to ask yourself, others, and God can provide invaluable insight for fixing whatever may have gone wrong in your life.
Avoid failure with your “advance warning system”
Pilots of large commercial airliners have on-board warning systems that alert them whenever they are flying to low. A computer-generated voice shouts, “Pull up! Pull up!” when the airplane is in danger of crashing. Heeding the warning system’a advice before an accident is much more profitable than sifting through the information provided by voice-date recorders after an accident. If you were a pilot, wouldn’t you rather avoid a crash than have someone else learn from your mistake?
Ideally, you have people in your life who will serve as your advance-warning system to help you avoid failure. These are people who know you well, who care about you deeply, and who believe their counsel will be received rather than resented. Look around you: who will tell you the truth, no matter how much it hurts at the time?
Consider the experience of King Rehoboam, who followed his father, Solomon. At the beginning of his reign, some of Solomon’s advisors approached Rehoboam with a suggestion: “Your father was a great leader, but his building projects have resulted in higher taxes, which are crushing the people.” They advised, “If you will lower taxes, the people will follow you forever.”
Rehoboam pretended to consider their advice but then called in his handpicked sycophants, who simply reinforced what the king had already planned to do. “If you want to make a name for yourself rather than simply be known as ‘Solomon’s boy,‘ you had better initiate more building programs. And that means raising taxes,” his cohorts counseled. Rehoboam followed their suggested course of action, resulting in a civil war that split the kingdom into two. He should have followed his dad’s counsel. Solomon once observed, “Wisdom is found in those who take advice.... The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death” (Prov 13:10, 14).
How can you learn from Rehoboam’s mistake? Go to one or two of your closest friends and say, “I respect your wisdom and know that you care about me. If you ever see me about to make a big mistake in any area of my life-my career, my family, my finances, or my relationship with God-I hope you will tell me ahead of time.” Then, just as important as soliciting advice, is listening to those friends and receiving with gratitude what they say.