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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Growing Compendium of Quotes on Failure, Failing & Just Plain Flopping Out

"A Quote-a-day keeps failure away..." :-)

Erik A. Steiner, Innovator and Entrepreneur

"Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success."

Dale Carnegie, Writer

“Nothing fails like success because we don’t learn from it. We learn only from failure.”

Kenneth Boulding, Economist and Systems Scientist

"From the errors of others, a wise man corrects his own."

from The Moral Sayings of Publius Syrus, Latin Writer of Maxims

"A man who has committed a mistake and doesn't correct it, is committing another mistake."

Confucius, Philosopher

"Success is never final, failure is never fatal. It's courage that counts."

John Wooden, Basketball Player & Coach

"I Can Accept Failure, Everyone Fails At Something. But I Can't Accept Not Trying Again."

Michael Jordan, Basketball Player

“It is failure that guides evolution; perfection provides no incentive for improvement, and nothing is perfect.”

Colson Whitehead, Novelist

"Success is most often achieved by those who don't know that failure is inevitable."

Coco Chanel, Fashion Designer

"Failure is success if we learn from it."

Malcolm Forbes, Publisher

"Failure defeats losers, failure inspires winners."

Robert T. Kiyosaki, Investor, Businessman, Author

“If something fails despite being carefully planned, carefully designed, and conscientiously executed, that failure often bespeaks underlying change and, with it, opportunity.”

Peter F. Drucker, Author and Leading Management Thinker

"Fail Forward Fast.

It is far better to have sloppy success than to have perfect procrastination. It is easy to get caught up in the endless tinkering and perfecting of a project. It is true some things require perfection – most simply need excellence. All need action today!

Do you find yourself waiting to launch important projects? Are you forever splitting hairs about elements that are not mission critical. Do you spend hours and hours on details that don’t matter much?

Start your Monday with action! In taking action you may fail – but even that failure will move you forward toward ultimate success. Pick a project you have been putting off and begin today to take the action which will accelerate your path to achievement."

Tom Peters, "Father" of All Business Gurus, Incredible Guy

"Life is pretty simple:
You do some stuff.
Most fails.
Some works.
You do more of what works.
If it works big, others quickly copy it.
Then you do something else.
The trick is the doing something else."

Tom Peters, "Father" of All Business Gurus, Incredible Guy

"If I find 10,000 ways something won't work, I haven't failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward."

Thomas Edison, American Inventor and Businessman

“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorius triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt, 26th US President

Thoughts from Guy Kawasaki:

"Let’s say a startup is hot. It ships something great, and it achieves success. Thus, it’s able to attract the best, brightest, and most talented. These people have been told they’re the best since childhood. Indeed, being hired by the hot company is “proof” that they are the A and A+ players; in fact, the company is so hot that it can out-recruit Google and Microsoft.

Unfortunately, they develop a fixed mindset that they’re the most talented, and they think that continued success is a right. Problems arise because pure talent only works as long as the going is easy. Furthermore, they don’t take risks because failure would harm their image of being the best, brightest, and most talented. When they do fail, they deny it or attribute it to anything but their shortcomings.

And this is the beginning of the end."

(Source: The Effort Effect)

Guy Kawasaki, Author, Speaker and Investor

"Ambitious failure, magnificent failure, is a very good thing."

Guy Kawasaki, Author, Speaker and Investor

"We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails."

Bertha Calloway, Founder of the Great Plains Black Museum

"Failure isn't fatal, but failure to change might be."

John Wooden, American Basketball player and coach

"Success is never permanent, and failure is never final."

Mike Ditka, former American football NFL player, television commentator, and coach

"Make failure your teacher, not your undertaker."

Zig Ziglar, Motivational Speaker

"Failure is a detour not a dead end street."

Zig Ziglar, Motivational Speaker

"I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it."

Pablo Picasso, Artist

"Failure is the price of excellence."

Leonard Pitts, Jr., Pulitzer prize winning commentator

"We learn from failure, not from success!"

Bram Stoker, Author (Dracula!)

"When I was young, I observed that nine out of 10 things I did were failures, so I did 10 times more work."

George Bernard Shaw, Playwright

"Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at something that doesn't really matter.”

Dwight L Moody, Evangelist

"Persistence can change #failure into extraordinary achievement."

Matt Biondi, Olympic Athlete, Swimmer

"Many people dream of success. To me succes can only be achieved through repeated failure and introspection. In fact, success represents the one percent of your work that results from the ninety-nine percent that is called failure."

Soichiro Honda, Engineer, Founder of Honda Motor Company (aka "Honda")

As quoted in The Power of Failure: 27 Ways to Turn Life's Setbacks into Success

"Failure is the foundation of success, and the means by which it is achieved."

Lao Tzu, Philosopher

As quoted in The Power of Failure: 27 Ways to Turn Life's Setbacks into Success

"The Achilles heel of failure: hindsight is 20/20."

Erik A. Steiner, Innovator and Entrepreneur

This time, a poem... IF by Rudyard Kipling


If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too:

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,

Or being hated don't give way to hating,

And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream---and not make dreams your master;

If you can think---and not make thoughts your aim,

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same:.

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings,

And never breathe a word about your loss:

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings---nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,

And---which is more---you'll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling, short-story writer, poet, novelist

"Only he who does nothing makes no mistakes."

French Proverb

As quoted in The Power of Failure: 27 Ways to Turn Life's Setbacks into Success

"He that is overcautious will accomplish little."

Friedrich von Schiller, Poet, Philosopher, Historian and Playwright

As quoted in The Ten Commandments for Business Failure

"For this is the tragedy of man-circumstances change, but he doesn't."

Machiavelli, Historian, Politician, Diplomat, Philosopher, Humanist and Writer

As quoted in The Ten Commandments for Business Failure

"In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure."

Bill Cosby, Comedian

Referring to every well-educated person, Charles Kettering, one of America's greatest inventors and innovators of all time, said, " is not a disgrace to fail, and that he must analyze each failure to find its cause...must learn how to fail intelligently. Failing is one of the greatest arts in the world. One fails towards success."

Charles Kettering, Inventor

Quoted in Whoever Makes the Most Mistakes Wins

"Being successful is kind of dull."

Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari

Quoted in Whoever Makes the Most Mistakes Wins

Tom Crouch writing about the Wright Brothers...

"They were as excited about failure as they were by success."

(from The Bishop's Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright)

The Wright Brothers

Tom Crouch

"One must be God to be able to distinguish successes from failures and not make mistakes."

Anton Chekov

"Good men are still liable to make mistakes, and are sometimes warmly engaged in errors, which they take for divine truths, shining in their minds with the clearest light."

John Locke

"If there is a single tragic flaw that mars our biggest enterprises, it is conservatism - the failure to fail, and fail big, in an era of unprecedented volatility and ambiguity."

Tom Peters

"Failure in Innovation - it's a price worth paying."

Tim Harford (from: Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure
. New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2011)

Man has been writing of failure since biblical times. Here we go back to the time of Aristotle, to a controversial quote that I do not believe does justice to reality:

"It is possible to fail in many ways...while to succeed is possible only in one way."

Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, II, 6

"I was never afraid of failure; for I would sooner fail than not be among the greatest."

John Keats, one of the greatest and most important poets in the history of mankind - born in 1795, he died so so young, only 26. One hesitates to think what Keats would have accomplished in a full lifetime...the following are ruminations from a letter written to one James Hessey on October 8, 1818:

"The Genius of Poetry must work out its own salvation in a man: It cannot be matured by law & precept, but by sensation ad watchfulness in itself - That which is creative must create itself - In Endymion, I leaped headlong into the Sea, and thereby have become better acquainted with the Soundings, the quicksands, & the rocks, than if I had stayed upon the green shore, and piped a silly pipe, and took tea & comfortable advice. I was never afraid of failure; for I would sooner fail than not be among the greatest."

John Keats

Mark Zbaracki, at the time a professor at NYU, wrote a nice little piece titled "Success, Failure and the Race of Truth" for the Journal of Management Inquiry back in September of 2006. Thought I'd pull a nice quote from there:

"...those moments when life sends us sliding along the pavement or tumbling over the handlebars are gifts, opportunities for clarity..."

Mark J. Zbaracki

Here's John Adams writing on failure in 1755 (!):

(I received this newest volume from the Library of America today - the man was only twenty years old when he inferred and wrote the following and much more. Incredible. The strange spelling, capitalizations etc. as in the original text)

"If we look into History we shall find some nations rising from contemptible beginnings, and spreading their influence, 'till the whole Globe is subjected to their sway. When they have reach'd the summit of Grandeur, some minute and unsuspected Cause commonly affects their Ruin, and the Empire of the world is transferr'd to some other place. Immortal Rome was at first but an insignificant Village, inhabited only be a few abandoned Ruffins, but by degrees it rose to a stupendous Height, and excell'd in Arts and Arms all the nations that praeceeded it. But the demolition of Carthage (what one should think would have establish'd it in supream dominion) by removing all danger, suffer'd to sink into debauchery, and made it att length an easy prey to Barbarians."

John Adams, Revolutionary Writings, 1755-1775

"There is the greatest practical benefit in making a few failures early in life."

T H Huxley, On Medical Education (1870)

"83 percent of Chief Executive Officers fail."

Lucy Kellaway, writing for the Financial Times

"Failure is good. It's fertilizer. Everything I've learned about coaching I've learned from making mistakes."

Rick Pitino, NBA Coach

"We are all failures - at least, all the best of us are."

J. M. Barrie

“Ever tried.

Ever failed.

No matter.

Try again.

Fail again.

Fail better."

Samuel Beckett

Friday, April 11, 2014

Six Categories of Large Company Failure

Six Categories of Large Company Failure

Based on research undertaken by Hamilton and Micklethwait (2006, Greed and Corporate Failure), large company failures are caused by problems that can be grouped into six major categories:

  • Poor strategic decisions - most relevant when existing well established companies undertake expansion, either through the introduction of new products or technologies, expansion into new geographic markets or as a result of M&A (see more directly below); failure occurs as a result of a lack of understanding of critical business drivers, inadequate risk management (many aspects e.g. technological, competitive, financial) or insufficient due diligence.
  • Overexpansion through (bad) M&A - research clearly shows most M&A efforts fail; nevertheless companies continue to aggressively expand through tactics with odds worse than a coin toss. Typically for a large company integration costs will always exceed any foreseen benefits. Cultural differences and insufficient management capacity can derail M&A efforts as well. However top management typically stands to gain financially directly, disproportionately and without regard to the actual results of the merger which is why most of these efforts proceed in the first place.
    Additional drivers of failure through overexpansion include overpaying for acquisitions (partially driven by the probability for greater personal financial gain among management of both companies), and excessive focus on short term growth - sadly, again, with an eye towards personal gain.
    Hamilton and Micklethwait provide analysis of several examples of large scale M&A failure including:
    • AOL - Time Warner
    • Daimler - Chrysler
    • BMW - Rover
    • Enron - Wessex Water
    • Worldcom - Intermedia

  • Dominant CEO - empowered and often drunk on the heels of his or her success, a dominant CEO may surround himself with like-minded "aye sayers" and distance critics; when such a CEO manages to finagle his way into the Chairman's role as well the company is frequently doomed. Heterogeneity supports success, homogeneity and lack of criticism and oversight will eventually lead to failure.

  • Greed and the desire for power - most humans do not suffice with what they already have, and the over-achievers that tend to rise to positions of power within major corporations succumb more frequently to greed than the more complacent types who live below. This again leads to short-termism and the pursuit of personal gain even when clearly not in the best interests of the company and most stakeholders. Option awards may skew potential compensation to such a degree that extremely risky and questionable tactics be undertaken.
  • Failure of internal controls - as large, successful companies grow bureaucracy increases and additional managerial levels take hold the distance between top management and the real world - both inside of the corporation and external to it - widens. Where managerial control and firm leadership had ruled disorder and lack of focus takes reign. Some of the causes identified include:
    • Blurred reporting lines
    • Dispersed departments
    • Increase in remote operations
    • Under-resourced risk management departments
    • Weak, ineffective internal audit
    • Poor cash management
    • Inappropriate financial structures
  • Ineffective and complacent boards leading to ineffective governance - when directors are no longer genuinely independent the CEO loses an objective sounding board and failure looms. Similarly as highlighted above under greed - merging the roles of CEO and Chairman leaves the corporation susceptible to tunnel vision and worse. A company that wants to last must have in place a board that feels free to ask the tough questions, not a bunch of suits that feel compelled to rubber stamp any and all CEO decisions...

Monday, March 31, 2014

Churchill on Failure

Fred Smith (Fedex) on Failure

"Fear of failure must never be a reason not to try something."
Fred Smith, founder of Fedex.

He should know...

Smith failed to sell his revolutionary concept of a hub and spoke logistics delivery system countless times, never giving up even in the face of countless rejections, until finally succeeding to set it up himself.

And the rest, as they say, is history (of Fedex)...

Jugoslav Petković on the Art Of Failing Gracefully

Jugoslav Petković talks about his personal "Unexpected Lessons in the Art Of Failing Gracefully" at the Fear & Failure Meetup in Ljubljana March 2014.

** Petković Video **

Monday, March 24, 2014

Failure Conference Roundup

Failure conferences have become all the rage. On a personal note, I had recently keynoted "Fail Forward 2014" at Loughborough College in England, a first of its kind in the UK, aiming to change the culture, feeling and understanding of failure, by bringing people together and provoking conversation on the subject of failure as a precursor to success. Here's a short list of recent events around the globe: April 2014 Failure:Lab, Michigan State U, East Lansing, Michigan March 2014 Fail Forward 2014, Loughborough UK March 2014 Failcon NL, Amsterdam, Holland March 2014 Fear and Failure, Ljubljana, Slovenija Aware of other conferences and/or seminars on failure? We'd love to hear from you, drop us a line.

Monday, February 17, 2014

From Quora: "How can one learn to not be afraid of failure?"

Question from Quora:

"How can one learn to not be afraid of failure?"

"After listening to over 30 Stanford Technology Ventures Program (STVP) talks, I have come to the conclusion that I have not taken a significant amount of risk in my life and career thus far. My upbringing didn't necessarily nurture risk, but instead put an emphasis on "safety" and mild success. More specifically, if any of the great minds out there have some experience breaking out of the risk-averse lifestyle, I would really appreciate some examples of what your catalysts were."

My Reply:

"You have to realize that if you are going to try anything - you're going to fail. Failure is just a stepping stone (or, more typically, a FEW stepping stones) on your path to success. Nothing more.

Of course if you're not willing to try and tackle any new challenges - then you are not going to succeed at anything either.

We all fail, many times - even though it may seem some people have had it relatively easy and had struck it big without any hardship this is rarely the case.

A risk-averse lifestyle is fine - if you are willing to compromise. Never forget you only live once - make the most of it!!"

For more replies click over.