Guilt, Shame, and Failure

Posted by on February 17, 2014

Contrary to what my headline might suggest, this is actually an upbeat message.

Guilt is about what you have done.
Shame is about who you are.
Failure in business has no connection to either of these.

Failures are footlights along the dark pathway to success.

One of the defining characteristics of Wizard Academy alumni is that we are people of action. Failure does not frighten us.

The author of Peter Pan, J. M Barrie, would have been one of us if Wizard Academy had existed back then. He said, “We are all failures – at least the best of us are.”

Thomas John Watson, the early President of IBM who turned that company into a household word, said, “If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.”

Roger Van Oech, a consultant to Apple, Disney, Sony and IBM echoes, “Remember the two benefits of failure. First, if you do fail, you learn what doesn’t work; and second, the failure gives you the opportunity to try a new approach.”

Warren G. Bennis had a failure epiphany that changed his life. He says, “The leaders I met, whatever walk of life they were from, whatever institutions they were presiding over, always referred back to some failure: something that happened to them that was personally difficult, even traumatic, something that made them feel that desperate sense of hitting bottom — as something they thought was almost a necessity. It’s as if, at that moment, the iron entered their soul; that moment created the resilience that leaders need.”

Failure, it seems, is valuable and important and necessary to your success.
Here’s how to do it right:

Fail cheaply. Always ask, “What is the minimum viable experiment?”
Fail forward. Be sure to learn something you didn’t know before you failed.
Fail quickly. The primary goal is to prove or disprove your concept.

This education by experience can be expensive. But ignorance is even more expensive.

I’m in the middle of what appears – right now – to be a failure of epic proportions.
But I’m not frightened by it, ashamed of it, or even confused.
“Amazed” is the word I would use.

Back on November 4th I announced a $10,000 Quixote’s Windmill Prize. Only 4 people, so far, have entered that contest.

Think of it this way: would you accept a free lottery ticket to win a $10,000 cash prize if your chances of winning were 1 in 4? That’s right. There is nothing to buy, no entry fee, and anyone can enter. The prize is cash.

The deeply insightful Jean Vanier says, “I am struck by how sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes.” The name of Vanier’s book is Community and Growth.

Community: you’re part of the community of Wizard Academy and the Monday Morning Memo.
Growth: It’s the goal of our coming together.

I’m going to say something hard now. I hope you will forgive me: If you want to stand before others as a sparkling example of what is possible if a person works hard enough, is disciplined and determined enough, and makes all the right decisions, well, you seem to have a need to be worshipped.

If you actually want to benefit the people around you… if you want to help them avoid the mistakes you made and the difficulties you endured as a result… you must share those mistakes and describe those difficulties. This is how we grow. This is how we have community.

I want you to enter Quixote’s Windmill contest because it’s important for you to laugh about your failures. If you try to keep them secret, you give them power over you.

Don’t wear the handcuffs of the past.

Roy H. Williams

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