Strategic Fail

Fail fast. Your success depends on it

BACK in high school, you teachers probably trained you in ‘exam technique’.

For example, your maths teacher probably gave your class exam-prep advice which sounded something like this: “do the easy questions first, skip anything you don’t understand and come back to it at the end of the test if you have time. Use your time carefully.” This is excellent advice. That is to say, it is excellent advice if you want to pass a high school maths exam.

Fast forward 15 years and imagine little Jimmy from your maths class, now a medical doctor, standing in an emergency room doing surgery on your father. Do you want him to skip the tricky bits and come back to them at the end?

Would you prefer a doctor who is good at surgery and good at golf? Or a doctor who is excellent at surgery and horrible at golf?

The advice that got us through high school exams, won’t get us through life. Trying to be good at everything is only a good strategy if you are trying to ensure that you don’t become excellent at anything.

Fail strategically, and fail fast.

Your success depends on it.

Who is responsible for your success?

THIS IS an important question because the answer will affect how you feel about yourself, how likely you are to persist in the face of set backs, and how much enjoyment you gain from the things you do.

If you have read any of Seth Godin‘s work then you are probably familiar with the idea of the “linchpin”; the person who makes things happen, gets things done, and is the reason for successful outcomes.

Who are the linchpins in your world?  Think about your work life, family life, or sporting activities.  Who do you want on your team?  Who is the person that will ensure quality work, home cooked meals, or sporting victory?  Chances are you can think of at least one person in each setting who you would describe as a “linchpin” … and chances are they’re not you.

Many people look externally for the source of positive outcomes, success and enjoyment in their lives.  Martin Seligman, in his best-selling book “Learned Optimism“, outlines that this habit of attributing positive outcomes to other people, external factors or luck is a form of pessimism.  And the more non-personal, temporary and specific your explanations for positive outcomes, the more pronounced the pessimism.

Here are three examples of pessimistic explanations for positive outcomes:

  1. Praise from a client: “The client was happy with the finance report [specific] that the team [non-personal] submitted on this project [temporary]. Dave had some great insights.” [non-personal]
  2. Enjoyed family barbeque: “I enjoyed the family barbeque [specific] this year [temporary]. Grandma was so funny.” [non-personal]
  3. Won a swimming race: “I won the race [specific]. Suzy was off the pace tonight.” [non-personal and temporary]

You need to take personal responsibility for the good things in your life because this is a form of optimism, self-belief, and will give you the positive energy you need to keep moving.  The more personal, permanent, and pervasive your explanations for your success, the better.

Compare the above explanations with the following more optimistic explanations:

  1. Praise from client: “The client loves us [permanent, pervasive]. We are a good group and I work really well with people.” [personal, permanent]
  2. Enjoyed family barbeque: “What a fun day with the family, I always enjoy myself.” [personal, permanent and pervasive]
  3. Won a swimming race: “The other swimmers are very competitive [permanent]. I swam a personal best [personal] and I am grateful to my coach for helping me make the most of my abilities.” [personal, permanent and pervasive]

The interesting thing about each of the above statements is that they explain things which have happened, i.e. they explain the past.  It is curious that many people find it difficult to explain the past in an optimistic way because, after all, your life is a story, you are the main character, and you are free to tell your own story and portray the the main character in any way you choose.  If you do not own your past successes then you are placing other people or circumstances at the the centre of your personal story, and thereby shifting positive energy away from yourself.

Wait a minute, you may be thinking, taking all the credit for my success sounds kind of arrogant and being humble is a good thing, right?  Yes, you are right, humility is a good thing.  However, if you think of “humility” as the quality of avoiding excessive arrogance and considering other people as just as important as yourself then you might agree that failing to take responsibility goes much further than this.  The humble man will give credit where credit is due, but the irresponsible man will almost always downplay or ignore his own role in success and attribute that success to other people, fortunate circumstances or dumb luck.

The irresponsible man may be able to avoid any blame for failure. However, he will find it difficult to be satisfied with his success, persist in the face of personal setbacks, or delight in fulfilling his daily goals … because he has none.

Who is responsible for your success?