We can learn a lot from our failures, but given the choice, I’ll take success any day of the week.
I’m pretty sure you would too, right? It’s interesting to me though that there are so many articles, web posts and quotes by famous people about failure – how it can be a good thing, how to learn from it, how not to be afraid of it – that they seem to vastly outnumber the articles about the benefits of mastering your craft.
If you do a Google search for “articles about failure” and the first result is a story in the Washington Post titled “How We Succeed by Failing.” Search for “articles about success” and the first result is a post titled “Why Success Always Starts with Failure.”
Now I don’t want to downplay the significant benefits that come when we learn from our own mistakes and failures. I’ve certainly learned my share of lessons the hard way. And it can’t be denied that having the character to be able to bounce back from a crushing setback is a key skill that will take you far in life. But looking in the rear view mirror can only get us so far. At some point we need to shift our focus from what NOT to do (to avoid failure) and start working on the things to DO if we want to succeed!
Recently I’d had a string of really nice successes with a few projects (and yes, a few minor failures sprinkled in there) and I began to reflect on the reasons for that success. I wanted to zero in on some of those key elements for excellence and continue to build on those, so that I could replicate them over and over. Here are a few of those factors for success that I came up with:
- The 10,000 hour rule – Malcolm Gladwell claims that 10,000 hours of practice are needed to achieve expertise in a subject. I figure I’m pushing about 30,000 hours in the civil engineering field. Usually engineers with my experience are doing mainly project oversight or corporate management. I still enjoy designing and I think those hours of experience are paying off.
- Leveraging current technology – I try to take advantage of some of the advances in design software to minimize errors and increase accuracy. Other improvements in the realms of cloud computing and document management have helped to improve efficiency as well.
- The team approach – As much as I would like to be awesome at everything, I realize that I can’t be. So partnering with other local experts on those areas where I’m weak allows me to focus on areas of strength. This has definitely helped increase my success rate.
- Understanding the “why” – Starting with the big picture and letting that permeate every aspect of my work has been a tremendous help for me. When I realize that the daily tasks that I’m working on are part of a larger narrative to help build community while building communities – it helps me to stay focused, motivated and determined to produce excellence.
Do I still fail and make mistakes that I shouldn’t have? Absolutely. And I will continue to learn from my failures and take steps so that I don’t repeat them. But I’m also hoping that by reflecting on and identifying some of the reasons for success, that I will be able to reproduce good results while at the same time minimizing the bad ones.
Have you taken the time to think about some of your most successful projects? What were the keys to those outcomes? What were the most important factors that you need to carry forward to your next project? I’m sure readers would love to hear (and learn from) your experiences too – I know I would. Failure can be instructive – but success sure is a lot more fun!