3 Times failure might be your best option

After failing to climb Kilimanjaro on my first attempt I was in a pretty sour mood (not to mention smelly)

I frequently talk to business audiences about climbing Kilimanjaro and the lessons it taught me.  One of the big lessons I learned is about the value of failure and that sometimes failure might actually be the best option.  I like to ask my business audiences what they think about that and if failure is an option where they work.  This usually facilitates a very heated and usually interesting discussion about what constitutes failure in the first place. Of course, nobody likes to fail.  But in many cases it may be the best option.  As these business leaders discuss the topic, I've found it may be the preferred course in the certain situations: When success is even worse: Sometimes winning isn't everything.  Have you ever fought hard to achieve something only to hate the results?  Some businesses work so hard to win a customer or launch a new product.  However, in the end the customer or new product causes all kinds of problems and turns out to cost them more money than they make.   In that case you'd be better of failing than winning the customer.  On my first Kilimanjaro climb I was forced to turn back from altitude sickness and failed to reach the summit.  Maybe I could have pushed myself farther and succeeded in reaching the summit.  But the risk to my health was high and successfully summiting the mountain could have been fatal for me. When we learn from it: Most people agree, you "can't argue with success" and "if it ain't broke don't fix it."  In fact, we rarely learn a great deal from success.  If you ask most Kilimanjaro climbers what was key to their successful summit of the mountain many will say their training or the food or Diamox or any number of options.  But the fact is they really don't know.  They just know it worked.  But failure immediately exposes the weakest link and allows us to address and improve it.  Without that knowledge we could go on for years under-performing simply because it's working.  The failure is manageable: With the exception of Apple and Starbucks, few companies launch products these days without some kind of testing, if only internally.  Why?  Because it lets us take a big mountain and break it into small successes and better identify why we might fail.  Looking back to Kilimanjaro, I didn't fail to climb the mountain, I only failed to climb the last 1,000 feet.  I successfully climbed from about 4,000 feet to 18,000 feet.  Had I tried to climb the mountain all at one time I likely would have failed a lot sooner.  So not only did I learn where my really problem was, I was also able to spend 5 wonderful and successful days on the mountain before failing. I recently came across this great quote from Michael Eisner, the CEO of Disney who turned the company around: “Succeeding is not really a life experience that does that much good. Failing is a much more sobering and enlightening experience." Looking back on my experiences I can honestly say that I've learned more from my failures than I have my successes.  Failure is a useful and necessary part of life.  But for it to fulfill its purpose in our lives, we have to acknowledge our failures; to be willing to face them and grow from them.
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