Learn to Turn Failure into Success

“It's fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure,” Bill Gates said. We always shower praise on those who have triumphed. Very rarely do we examine all the times the triumphant have failed, and analyze how they turned their “luck” around. In today’s installment of Big Think’s Edge, economist Tim Harford, the author of the critically acclaimed The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: How to Run or Ruin an Economy, teaches how to turn failure into success.


A Successful Mindset

If you’re striving to achieve anything then failure is inevitable. Prepare for it, says Harford. “Whenever you’re trying a new experiment, whether it’s a new job, a new product, a new hobby, a new boyfriend or girlfriend–whatever it is–you need to give some thought to what you’re going to do if it doesn’t work out and how to minimize the downside as well as taking advantage of the upside,” he says. “The biggest disasters in human history are always when people just assume that failure was impossible or they weren’t willing to contemplate it.”

Change Your Relationship to Failure

Failure is just an opportunity to learn and improve. It’s a teaching moment that should be analyzed with a practical, clear mind. Harford says that we run into trouble when we personalize failure, or try to justify it and ignore that we’ve made a mistake.

“All of us are at risk of cognitive dissonance in a small way whenever we make a mistake, particularly a mistake on something that’s important to us,” says Harford. “That is when we are most at risk, because our self-image is under threat.”

Mistakes must be embraced as being part of the process of success. If we don’t make mistakes it means that we’re not trying, and if we’re not trying then we’re not learning and getting better. Your self-worth should not rest on perfectionism, but rather value your ability to accept and learn from your mistakes. Not everyone is willing to admit when they’re wrong, which can hamper progress and relationships.

Take Advantage of Your Critics

In the latest installment of Edge, Harford discusses compelling case studies on failure. One is a story abbout renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp. Developing a musical inspired by the songs of Billy Joel, called “Movin' Out,” Tharp received an avalanche of bad reviews on an early run in Chicago.

What did she do? Tharp got to the bottom of what she was doing wrong. She and her team analyzed the critics’ feedback in the press, found common complaints, and completely reworked the musical. The show then went on to Broadway where it stunned critics, won Tonys, and enjoyed a long and lucrative run. Tharp triumphed, because she knew how to turn failure into success.

For a preview of Harford’s Edge workshop, watch these clips from his discussion on achieving a successful mindset and changing one's relationship to failure:

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