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T2P7 - Dealing with Failure

Happy Friyay! The sun is shining and tomorrow the Three Lions go again! #ItsComingHome. So this title is clearly not related to the England team at this time, although one intervention that the GB cycling team made was to implement incremental improvements across the board to tackle their shortcomings, which saw tremendous results - at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, they won an impressive 60% of the gold medals available. Last weekend I failed my driving test for a second time so I’ve taken some inspiration from that for this week’s blog topic; dealing with failure.

On my driving test experience, I got a major on a roundabout which I still maintain was harsh. However, I’m still in the licking my wounds stage of dealing with failing the test. Failure is normal and common, although I am very much intending on a third time ‘lucky’ experience on my next test. What I’m focused on is moving forward from those failures, big or small. I begun to deal with the failure by asking for a breakdown of the major from the examiner, and their view on how I could avoid repeating the same mistake in the future. By asking for this feedback I was ensuring that I was able to learn the lesson from the experience, although it wasn’t the outcome, I’d have liked it doesn’t mean there was nothing gained from it.

Lessons learned are a key principle of project management. Individuals and organisations are able to use the experiences and knowledge gained from similar situations to identify ways to improve processes; these can come from both successes and failures. The article How Does Project Termination Impact Project Team Members? Rapid Termination, “Creeping Death,” and Learning From Failure explains that failures provide more learning compared to successes. In addition, it found that to get the most out of lessons it is important to take an objective view. This is because viewing failures with only negativity prevents the most effective learning and moving on from a failure instantly stops the opportunity to learn from it.

I’ve written about lessons learned and seeking feedback but that knowledge isn’t valuable if it’s not applied. I am personally no stranger to failures. Before starting my latest role I had completed several applications and a few interviews with many not providing me the outcomes I sought. Most of them did offer me feedback on either my application or interview. Once I reviewed this feedback and talked it over with colleagues and friends, I was able to greatly improve the quality of my applications, leading to more than one job offer. This is why the quote:

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Is one of my favourites as neglecting the chance to learn from failure slows down our growth significantly. A lot of times projects can record lessons well, but they aren’t often revisited frequently; lessons should remain live and be reviewed consistently.

I’ve written about the importance of learning from failures but that isn’t the only aspect of dealing with them. It’s healthy to be annoyed, at the time of writing this I still am a bit annoyed, but it’s also important to acknowledge the failure. We must also realise that just because the outcome wasn’t the one sought doesn’t mean positives haven’t been gained from undertaking the task at hand. It’s also important to embrace the fact that failures will happen in our lives. This shouldn’t be a deterrent as life isn’t simply a straight road, there can be some dubious roundabouts on the way 😊

When dealing with failure:

- Understand where you went wrong

- Be accountable

- Be objective and evaluate how to improve

I caught up with an old colleague earlier and he said he’d be sure that someone was not telling the full truth in a project delivery interview if they had not experienced any failure or adversity in their work experience. This is simply a part of both project work and general life; it is natural although it can be tackled and is certainly not the end of the world. I’ve included a video of Giannis Antetokounmpo where he talks over some of his own shortcomings but concludes that the only way is up!


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