It's Good To Fail
It's Good To Fail

I want to share with you something different from a normal convocation speech – the concept of failure. Failure is a situation when you missed meeting your objective, failure is when you were rejected for something you wanted, failure is when you did not meet the expectations of those who mattered and failure is when you were not proactive and hence lost something. I want to give you my personal three points on failure.

First, is failure good or bad?

I personally believe failure is good. It is good as long as you are willing to learn from it. Some of the greatest successes have come after being rejected or failed.

Amitabh Bachchan was rejected when he auditioned as a newsreader with All India Radio. He was told his voice was not good enough. Steven Spielberg was rejected many times over and he went on to make movies that grossed over $ 8 Billion. Walt Disney was rejected before his company became iconic. JK Rowling of Harry Potter fame was rejected countless times.

The common lesson we can learn from these examples is that these people did not allow failure/rejection to crush their self -confidence and self- belief and they were resilient to fight another day.

I believe we learn much more from failure if we are willing to learn from it. When we succeed, we rarely analyze it, we almost take it as a divine right and bask in its glory.

Failure to meet expectations happens to us when we are in school or college. Every parent wants their child to get the first rank and anything less is not called out as a failure and the conversation goes like ... “if that boy/girl can do it, so can you”.

Our next set of failures come when we play a sport in school or college or take part in cultural events. Our teachers put in a lot of effort to make us good at that game or event, we however win some and lose some. When we lose we realize that we cannot win every day. We also realize that someone has to win, someone has to lose.

I played a lot of sport in school and college. When I lost I realized that it did not matter whether I performed or not, what was important was that we won as a team. There were times when I performed well and the team lost and there were times when I underperformed but the team did well. The important thing is not to blame others when we lose.

At an early stage of life, our reaction to failure is what our teachers and parents instill in us. I looked for encouragement and not to be sidelined whenever I failed.

Second, how does one handle failure?

When one fails, it is human nature to be protective and do the following:

a. Deny that it is a failure

b. Spin a new narrative on a minor point of victory in failure

c. Externalize and look for a fall guy/girl or point to factors beyond your control

When you deny failure and you are powerful, then people will go along with you, but things will get worse on the ground.

It is important to look for positives in something that’s gone wrong. However, most managers tend to point to ‘green shoots’ as a sign of strategy success when it is not, and the broader failure is the actual truth. People do this for motivation, encouragement etc., but it does not take away from the need to learn the right lessons from failure. In a business context, you hold on to an asset or direction much longer by digging in your heels and then it is too late.

The easiest and safest strategy is to externalize so that you deflect the negative emotions to another object/person/event. This approach is about shaming and blaming someone else and doesn’t help one bit of learning. My own view is that, as long as you do your best and have maximized what you control, then the external event is what it is.

I would say, don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is never permanent and success is not forever or guaranteed. When you fail, buckle down on your strengths and focus on leveraging your strengths. It is important to have emotional anchors to discuss failure. Emotional anchors tend to be a spouse or good friends or a good boss.

The worst thing to do is to stop trying new things when you fail. You need to continue to try, one failure should not dampen your spirit of risk taking. Don’t stop innovating.

I have found that humility is a good value in both success and failure.

Third, how do you handle failure when you are the leader?

When I am a leader, the challenge before me is when individuals can do far better but are not putting in the necessary efforts to be good. This I label the failure to achieve potential. I try and challenge these individuals to do better and raise their game as opposed to accepting their mediocre work. I have seen that the failure comes from lack of intellectual rigor and not lack of intellect.

When I was a junior/senior manager, I was challenged on rigor by my leaders like KK Sridhar, Anand Bhatia, R Gopalakrishnan, Sanjay Khosla, Dalip Sehgal, Harish Manwani and Indra Nooyi. These leaders expected nothing but top-notch work and their standards made be more capable.

While many leaders raise the bar of expectations and make you better, very few accept responsibility for the decision when something goes wrong.  As a leader, I have always tried to coach my team and tell my colleagues to do their best. When they put in their best, they rarely failed and if we failed, I took accountability for that. Taking personal accountability for team failure is a valuable leadership trait. This I have seen promotes more experiments and less failure and not the other way around.

When one is a senior manager, then many times you will come into a difference of opinion om direction with your superiors, be it the CEO or the board. Their world view is different from yours. I term this the failure to convince the seniors. I always tried my best to show them the true and balanced picture but, in some cases, one has to move on if that decision is going to hurt the larger company. All the senior managers could do little when Nokia board and CEO chose Windows and not Android. This was a monumental mistake but when results did not come, it was seen as a failure of execution and not strategy. The CEO and board did not accept the failure written on the wall. Nokia had no choice but to be sold.

In another role, I tried to convince the CEO that going with one ‘suspect’ eco system partner was not the right thing for the business. Unfortunately, this was not seen as positive. Here at least I was clear and learnt that there are wheels within wheels and indifferent decision-making is what some people were up to. I clearly failed to make them see the truth.

I want to close with a story about Ricky Ponting, the only test player with 100 test wins and the most successful captain in cricket history. Ricky played for KKR in the first year and I got to know him.  I interviewed him for CNBC storyboard for Anuradha Sengupta.

In one of our chats, I asked him how he dealt with his colossal failure as a batsman on the India tour of 2003. Ricky made 16 runs in three test matches on that tour. His answer was interesting.

He said, ‘I had a choice to sit alone and mope or do something else. On that tour Adam Gilchrist and Mathew Hayden were scoring all the runs. So, every evening, I would spend time with them hoping that their luck and success would rub off on me’.

Ricky Ponting took personal accountability of his failure and decided to address it in the most positive way.

So, failure is good when we take:

Personal accountability for it
We learn from it and use it as continuous improvement vehicle to get older, wiser and better.
Use failure as a stepping stone.

So, you cannot succeed if you don’t fail.

If you don’t fail, is it a life well lived?
 
  • Shiv Shivakumar
    Shiv Shivakumar
    Group Executive President, Corporate Strategy and Business Development - Aditya Birla Group

    Shivakumar or Shiv as he is popularly known is currently Group Executive president at Aditya Birla group for Strategy and Business development. He joined the ABG group in January 2018. Prior to this, Shiv was Chairman and CEO for PepsiCo for four years and before that with Nokia as CEO for India and later emerging markets for nearly a decade. Shiv has been a CEO for half his career and was one of the youngest CEOs in India in 2003. Shiv worked in HUL for a number of years, mostly in marketing. Shiv has worked with over 50 brands in his career and seen many business transformations. Shiv writes and teaches regularly on Innovation, Leadership, Followership, Business Models, Digitization etc. across the leading business schools in the world.

You May Also Like

The CMO of People
The CMO of People

Many organizations are not getting the best out of their HR function. Ask a CEO, “What is your...

The Challenges of Hiring Future Ready Leaders and  Russian Doll Theory of Hiring
The Challenges of Hiring Future Ready Leaders and Russian Doll Theory of Hiring

One of the biggest challenges most companies face today is hiring transformational leadership talent...

Why Do Most Innovation Programmes Fail?
Why Do Most Innovation Programmes Fail?

What do companies do when a new boss says “Innovation has to be part of our DNA”? Here ...

The Greatest Resource any Organization has is the Creativeness of People
The Greatest Resource any Organization has is the Creativeness of People

For too many years people have been treated as expense items instead of highly valuable resources. T...

How To Quit A Job You Love
How To Quit A Job You Love

It is not easy to quit a job you love. Even with a new dream job in-hand, cutting the cord that conn...

Take on Mistakes
Take on Mistakes

Yes, we do say mistakes teach you a lot and you shouldn’t be afraid of making mistakes. But we...

Five Stages Of Organization Evolution And Key Characteristics And Concerns At Each Stage
Five Stages Of Organization Evolution And Key Characteristics And Concerns At Each Stage

Organizations almost always progress through five more-or-less well-defined evolutionary growth stag...

Managing in Multi-Cultural Environment
Managing in Multi-Cultural Environment

As several companies expands the business overseas, it is crucial to understand how to run the busin...

Crossing Corporate Cultures Creativity In Organizations Across Industries
Crossing Corporate Cultures Creativity In Organizations Across Industries

Every market has its own unique business practices. People working in different business sectors dev...

Four pillars of Yoga for holistic health
Four pillars of Yoga for holistic health

Every human is unique; therefore it is necessary for each of us to find out for ourselves how we can...

Brave to Lead Like a Girl
Brave to Lead Like a Girl

All of us are dealt a unique deck of cards. Our aim is to identify our strengths and play those card...

How do you Extend Influence to Others and Change Lives?
How do you Extend Influence to Others and Change Lives?

You Change Lives When You Empower Others! (Extending Influence #1) When you empower others you chan...

How Important is Vision in a Successful Life?!
How Important is Vision in a Successful Life?!

Understanding Vision (How Important is Vision #1)   How do you communicate and give vision to ...

How do you Extend Influence to Others and Change Lives?
How do you Extend Influence to Others and Change Lives?

You Change Lives When You Empower Others! (Extending Influence #1)   When you empower others y...

High Potentials vs High Performers
High Potentials vs High Performers

A Leaders Guide to Identify the Differences  Mistaking a high-performing employee for...

Is 7% good enough?
Is 7% good enough?

A topic discussed at the recent World Economic Forum was the reluctance of male executives to mentor...

Learning & Development as Part of a (Digital) Transformation Strategy
Learning & Development as Part of a (Digital) Transformation Strategy

The global workforce is constantly evolving to support a knowledge based, digital economy. Due to th...

The Future of Work – Digital Nomads and the Gig Economy
The Future of Work – Digital Nomads and the Gig Economy

It is estimated that within a short couple of years, a large portion of the workforce (estimated to ...

Political Correctness towards Civility To be, or not to be, politically correct...
Political Correctness towards Civility To be, or not to be, politically correct...

We can incidentally praise or criticize others depending on how we say it, the word choice or expres...

Let's not confuse loyalty with longevity
Let's not confuse loyalty with longevity

Let's not confuse loyalty with longevity It is interesting that the issue of loyalty in the wor...

The Attitude of Gratitude - Replying does not mean Answering
The Attitude of Gratitude - Replying does not mean Answering

The Attitude of Gratitude - Replying does not mean Answering In the ever increasingly connected di...

(Work-Life) Balance or Harmony (! / ?)
(Work-Life) Balance or Harmony (! / ?)

(Work-Life) Balance or Harmony (! / ?) Welcome to the world of Work-Life Harmony, beyond Work-Life...

Making Board Meetings More Agile
Making Board Meetings More Agile

Making Board Meetings More Agile Given my belief that the world we live in today has changed irreve...

Four Lifehacks To Be More Productive Now
Four Lifehacks To Be More Productive Now

Four Lifehacks To Be More Productive Now Here are four daily life-hacks to help you to be more pr...

A leader sets an example, a leader doesn’t just order things, he does it so that others can do it  
A leader sets an example, a leader doesn’t just order things, he does it so that others can do it  

A leader sets an example, a leader doesn’t just order things, he does it so that others can do...

How would you end Executive Loneliness?
How would you end Executive Loneliness?

How would you end Executive Loneliness? What is the hardest part about being a leader? Altho...

Leadership Soft Skills Required for Business and Personal Success
Leadership Soft Skills Required for Business and Personal Success

Leadership Soft Skills Required for Business and Personal Success We often get asked, “What s...

New-G Leaders: Remember the Cow
New-G Leaders: Remember the Cow

New-G Leaders: Remember the Cow "Cow Don't Drink Water, Cannot Push Cow Head Down"&nbs...

Google your self
Google your self

What are your key leadership attributes? The beliefs and behaviours that make you unique and success...

Culture is not enough … Get the right culture
Culture is not enough … Get the right culture

A few years ago in Europe I asked a group of business leaders if they had the right culture.  S...

How Leaders Can Create a Culture of Agile Collaboration to Win in a VUCA World
How Leaders Can Create a Culture of Agile Collaboration to Win in a VUCA World

China growth-deceleration, the normalisation of monetary policies on the USA, tepid economies in Eur...

Is LinkedIn Improving Itself Out of Business?
Is LinkedIn Improving Itself Out of Business?

I still remember the day I joined LinkedIn.  A friend of mine called in frustration and asked w...

Life is the Name. Transformation is the Game.
Life is the Name. Transformation is the Game.

Over the past half a century, I come to realize life is about having gratitude and resilience. We ne...

How to handle negativity and negative colleagues at work
How to handle negativity and negative colleagues at work

In arithmetic's, negative into negative equals positive. But that’s just in arithmetic'...

ADAPT or PERISH: It is time for HR professionals to decide and create a new function or move out of the way!
ADAPT or PERISH: It is time for HR professionals to decide and create a new function or move out of the way!

Artificial intelligence in recruitment and performance management giving employees their key deliver...

Leadership Confidence in Times of Uncertainty
Leadership Confidence in Times of Uncertainty

How do you successfully lead an organization in uncertain challenging times?   Unparalleled st...

Insights for Making Working at Home Work!
Insights for Making Working at Home Work!

How can business and HR leaders manage challenges and find opportunities in the new realities of wor...

The Real You Is Not Really You…
The Real You Is Not Really You…

The Real You Is Not Really You…   We tend to see and act with our surrounding based o...

3 Powerful Lessons To Make A Successful Career Out Of Your Passion
3 Powerful Lessons To Make A Successful Career Out Of Your Passion

It Feels Like a Dream As I went on stage today to receive the Asia's Most Talented Coaching Lea...

How to Recover Your Direction - a case study during COVID19
How to Recover Your Direction - a case study during COVID19

What really happened 5 days ago I set myself a new challenge. Coronavirus had fundamentally changed...

Career Tips, Please
Career Tips, Please

Last week, I was tagged by the fab Tim McDonald in a LinkedIn post asking to share some pointers for...

Impact of AI on the workforce Pre and Post the Pandemic
Impact of AI on the workforce Pre and Post the Pandemic

With the sudden advent of COVID-19 - a global crisis of unprecedented scale, organisations now are c...

Career Kickstart
Career Kickstart

The first job you land could be the most important decision you make in your career. I have seen th...

Peter Principle - Are you a victim or Perpetrator?
Peter Principle - Are you a victim or Perpetrator?

The Peter Principle – Who do YOU Blame? In my junior years of business, many times clients an...

Stay Connected With Us