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Lessons from failures

by Vijay Garg
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Failure is not the same as a mistake. Knowing the difference and learning from it can bring us closer to success

What is failure? What is a mistake? Is there a difference between the two?
I’ve been driving the same car for the last 13 years. Compact and efficient, it is perfect for the Indian roads I drive on and takes me from point A to point B. Till the end of last year, it just needed its regular servicing every few months. There were no other complaints. Very recently, it started showing signs of ageing and has been making frequent trips to the workshop. It was only then that the sturdy car started failing. It was a failure brought on by prolonged use and wearing off of parts. It was inevitable and not the result of mistakes I was making, or errors committed during the manufacturing stage. This brings me to the questions: What is failure? What is a mistake? Is there a difference between the two?
As children, we are often reminded how important it is to succeed. We are told stories of accomplishment and shown examples of how hard work and determination bring us rewards and success. Very rarely are we told tales of failure. Failure is portrayed as the opposite of success and so, naturally, nobody wants to fail. Consciously or unconsciously, a fear of failure is developed in our minds.
Acknowledge the risk
However, failing is an important part of our growth. In my view, recognising failure, learning from it and implementing that lesson invariably take us closer to success. Sometimes, despite giving our best and being fully committed to our goals, we may not achieve the desired results. That failure may be due to factors beyond our control. Like the car I’ve been driving, the failure is brought on not because of a mistake, but due to extraneous elements. 
A space mission, a large-scale company project, a complicated surgery — all are risky and can fail, in spite of the best skills and intent.  The domain of invention, experimentation and creative innovation also come with the risk of failure. But failure here is part of the process. Designers, artists and writers grapple with failure all the time. Not all designs succeed. Not all words work their magic. A writer must abandon her work of art when it does not resonate with the readers. That failure cannot stop the creator from trying something new. 
This tolerance for failure feeds not only our willingness to try something new and expand our horizons, but also helps us step outside our comfort zones. This is what will help in the workplace as well.
In an organisation, we must be open to new roles and taking up new responsibilities even if we have no experience in that. We must be willing to fail and not be afraid of failure. The organisation and managers, in particular, must create an environment that does not penalise failure. Failures can be stepping stones to success only when employees feel safe and encouraged even after a project failure. Of course, during this process, it is also vital to understand that a mistake is not quite the same as a failure. A mistake can happen out of ignorance or wilful negligence while a failure can happen even when the best knowledge and skills are applied. A series of mistakes, when unattended, can lead to a failure. 
An inevitable part of growing up is recognising the difference between a mistake and a failure. At a very superficial level, these words may seem synonymous. Both failures and mistakes make us who we are.  But as we evolve, we slowly realise that failures are perhaps more significant than mistakes. This is because we have a lot to learn from them. So the next time you realise you have failed in something, celebrate it. It is a sign that you are evolving and that there’s a valuable lesson to learn from it. 

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