Failure feels like an ugly word. It doesn’t have to be. Learning from times where you’ve fallen, helps you to stand tall when it matters.

Failing Photo by Andrea Piacquadio:

Here’s some famous people who have ‘failed’:

  • Henry Ford went bankrupt before starting the Ford Motor Company.
  • Thomas Edison tested thousands of materials before creating the carbon-filament lightbulb.
  • J. K. Rowling received twelve rejections before the first Harry Potter book was published.

In this blog post, I wanted to cover times I ‘failed’, what impact it had on me, and what I learned from the experience.

Build empathy

When I first started my career, I was at a start-up. The founder wanted to build a feature to enable people to track their symptoms. When I spoke to users, I found they struggled with motivation, and in most cases gave up after a short time. I presented this back to the founder as a dry slide deck. This was a mistake. It did not help to build empathy between the founder and users. The start-up pressed ahead with the feature. They later canned it. If I had explained better, we could have saved time and focused on something important.

Now, I bring qualitative and quantitative data together to tell a story. Using videos or quotes helps to bring to life what our users are saying. I’ve also invited stakeholders to user research sessions to build empathy.

Controlled passion

For a time, I worked for the UK government to deliver digital services. I spent months talking to experts in government policy to learn what they think about the digital process.

I talked passionately about my research for an hour. By the end, I was buzzing with excitement. My audience didn’t feel the same.

Reflecting on this experience, I realised I was trying to convey too much information in one go. Now, I don’t wait for the big reveal. I share a summary of the key findings early. I keep my presentations short, 10-15 minutes max. Anything more, people’s attention wanes. Now, I try to share work early and often. I don’t wait for a big bang. I want to take people on a journey, and this helps to show people why I’ve taken the direction I have.

No blame culture

We were dependent on another team to enable our team to move forward. This team kept missing their deadlines. Emotions were running high, and I sent a terse email to get a new update on their timelines. The team responded back with their backs raised. This damaged the relationships between the two teams. Sending that email was the wrong move.

When I feel angry, I step away from my computer for a few minutes. I may also ask a colleague to review my response to ensure clear communication.

Why do some people succeed, and others fail?

Some people learn from their failed attempts more than others, with those who “learn more” incorporating more components of their failed attempts into their later attempts.

Michael Jordan famously said: “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game-winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

When you fail, it can feel horrible. Re-framing that feeling can help you succeed in the long-term. To help you re-frame, I remind myself of the following:

“When we hit our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change” - Aang in the The Legend of Korra

Sometimes it takes a leap of faith, when making a decision. Don’t be afraid to make the ‘wrong’ move. It might just help you in the end.