When Failure is Good

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Fret not. Most people take failure as something bad. Disappointments, blames, bad reputation etc., you know? Sometimes, the fear of failure is so immense that people have stopped trying. Try talking to a perfectionist and you will realize that he has zero tolerance even for the slightest blemish in his work. As a result, people have put in a lot of time and effort trying to prevent failure from happening. On the contrary, very little attention is given to managing failure recovery which, in my opinion, is equally important.

Since young, we have been taught that the best way to solve a problem is to prevent it from occurring. Trust me, I know that. But, this does not give us a reason to neglect the recovery part. In fact, in most situations, there is no way for us to ensure 100% error-free or guaranteed success. Think about managing projects. No one can guarantee right from the beginning that the project will be successful without any hiccups along the way. The same applies to software development. Realistically, it is almost impossible to find a piece of software without any bug.

So why are we draining ourselves in an elusive dream? Isn’t it better if we invest more time to prepare ourselves in order to bounce back faster and stronger from a failure? This is especially crucial if you are running a service delivery operation. When a service is down, customers sulk over it while the support team scramble in panic to get it fixed. Very often, it is how fast you are able to recover from a service failure that determines if your customers are going to stick around with you for a few more years.

I came across this interesting Service Recovery Paradox that states that with a highly effective service recovery, a service or product failure offers a chance to achieve higher satisfaction ratings from customers than if the failure had never happened. It got me thinking for a while and then came an epiphany. Perhaps, if we handle a negative situation positively, we may turn a service failure into an opportunity to improve customer satisfaction and build better relationships. It is not necessary that we always have to end up taking blames from the customers only. We may actually capitalize on failure. Yes, failure can be good. It gives us an opportunity to do better. It forces us out of our comfy chair to review what we have been doing so far and improve on it. We learn from each failure and become wiser and now, we may even make our customers happier. So next time when a service failure hits, remember to think about how you can swing it to your advantage.

“Yes, I may trip, but I shall not fall.” I smiled to myself.

Posted on: November 15, 2011 11:22 PM | Permalink

Comments (10)

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Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm - Winston Churchill .

Good post Wai. I look at failure as part of the learning process you take it for what it is and learn from it. You figure out what went wrong and correct it so that it will not happen again. The only time you will fail is when you do not act upon it. Here in Connecticut, USA we recently had two storms. The first storm was hurricane Irene at the end of September virtually wiped out half the power grid in the state. It took over a week to restore it back. The Governor of the state set up a panel to review the preparedness, response and recovery efforts regarding the storm. The finding, in a nutshell, was the lack of communication. Fast forward to the end of October, winter storm Alfred hits the state with over 12” of heavy wet snow. The trees could not stand the weight of the snow and leaves. Therefore, trees began to snap. The state lost almost 100% of its power grid leaving the state in the dark. It took the power company about 3 days to get their act together. Again, the same thing happened as with the first storm. NO COMMUICATION and then some. The company did not learn from the fist storm. Again, they were much unrepaired. What I am saying is that this company did not learn from the first failure. One can only fail just so much with the same issue and then public confidence is lost. Yes, failure is good learn from it, however, fix it and do not let it happen again.

Great Post and I like what Mark commented, "The only time you will fail is when you do not act upon it."
Therefore, there is NO FAILURE, they are just FEEDBACK.

Great post. If you aren't failing at things from time to time then you probably aren't pushing and stretching enough. Failure doesn't define the person unless they let it. Failure presents an opportunity to learn from the situation and grow. What is really frustrating is when one fails to learn from failure and repeats the same mistakes over and over again.

Thank you everyone for the great comments, especially Mark's account on how people just never learn from their mistakes. Although we should not fear to fail, just like what Thomas Edison has said that 'I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work', I have to agree with Sam that we should not repeat our mistakes over and over again without learning learning to do better.

Someone said "Fall down six times, get up seven!" If there is true learning from these experiences, and not just relearning ( or not learning;) ) the same lesson over and over, then one's mastery will evolve and you will build deep skills in resiliency and know how to recover faster.

I know I'd rather have somebody on my teams that has faced some adversity and worked through it. It is easier to build high performing teams with such people.

I always liked the addage: "It's not how you fall, but how you get up that matters."

I think failure is part of completing a project. For instance, in writing, there is a technique called the "crappy first draft." You have to start with a not-so-good beginning and edit and re-edit. I think the same can be done with products and services (as long as it isn't so crappy as to send the company out of business). Isn't this was Microsoft has done for years; sent out beta tests and let the customer find the problems and then quickly finish them.

You've only failed when you've given up.

You're right on Shirley. The story goes on as long as you have not put in the final full stop.

Thanks Wai; nice article. I like to think of failiure as success in disguise. You can't cross that finish line if you don't stand up, dust yourself off and keep going.

Love this quote: “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
? Robert F. Kennedy

Couldn't agree more with your points Naomi, and nice quote too. Most failures turn out to be failures because they are afraid to fail.

Any PM who says, after a reasonable length of career, that they have never failed, is either a blatant liar, or has never actually tried to do any challenging projects. There is a space for those that do the straightforward, often repetitive projects, with low chance of failure, but once you have locked yourself into that space you are stuck in it for the rest of your career.

Give me challenging projects and occasional failure any day of the week!

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