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04.11.14

Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success

Leadership
Failure is how we learn. The problem is, argues Megan McArdle, we’re forgetting that truth. We are becoming too risk-averse and that is bad for our children, for our personal lives, for our companies, and for our country.

While we tend to treat success as finite and failure as disaster, the reality is that in order to be successful, we must learn how to harness the power of failure. In The Up Side Down, McArdle explains why.

Unfortunately, teaching our kids how to fail smartly is one of the most important things we (and our schools) could be doing. Instead, we protect our kids from failure.
Educational software can help kids master new skills by pinpointing where they’re going wrong, and letting them practice just that task over and over until they get it. And yet, we don’t seem to be carrying that lesson outside the computer lab. Perhaps this is because even as our electronics have become a better and better environment for learning from failure, our educational system has become much worse.
Of course, learning from failure means asking the right questions after a failure and taking responsibility for the answers. “Learning to fail well means overcoming our natural instincts to blame someone—maybe ourselves—whenever something goes wrong.” Perhaps we deflect responsibility not just to make ourselves look better, but also to create a sense of control and structure in the world.

Our fear of failure also causes us to stay the course long after we should have quit. The biggest key to understand, says McArdle, is that failure is not the problem. It’s our refusal to recognize that we have failed. “If we assume that failure is a catastrophe, we’ll often try to delay recognizing it as long as possible. That, of course, gives your failure lots of room to turn into a disaster.”

In The Up Side of Down you’ll find why making bankruptcy easy relative to the rest of the world means not only are people willing to takes more risks, but they are feed to try again. “We built the biggest, richest country in the world” and we did it mostly because “we were willing to risk more, and forgive more easily, than most other countries. We lend more freely, and let debtors off the hook; we regulate more lightly, and rely on a hit-and-miss liability system instead. These things are often painted as weaknesses, but in fact they are great strengths. They are the sign of a country more invested in the future than the past.”

Sharing her own experiences among the unemployed, she explains the psychology of why some unemployed people stay unemployed—and what can be done about it. In a chapter titled “Adopting the Way of the Shark,” she explains why you need to keep moving. She notes, “It is very difficult to communicate the progressive corrosion of long-term unemployment to someone who has not endured it.” Money is an issue, but the psychological toll is worse—withdrawing from social relationships because it is “increasingly painful to hang out with people who have jobs.”

The Up Side Down is persuasive and engaging. It is a rewarding read that will have you looking at the “failures” in your life as opportunities to learn and reinvent yourself.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:42 PM
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