Fail Your Way to Success

The vice chairman of the 150 year-old company, Dun & Bradstreet, wrote a wonderful article for Harvard Business Review. Jeff Stibel’s observation impressed me for three reasons: First, he is not merely a cloistered academic concocting arcane theories for other people to try out. Second, his point applies equally to parents as it does to business professionals. Third, his point is part of ancient Jewish wisdom’s insights into successful living which means it is a timeless truth.

Jeff was determined to create a corporate culture wherein employees could take risks and fail without fear. He rightly realized that people who take no risks seldom enjoy great success. Since it goes without saying that when a parent or business leader tolerates failure people can start lowering their own expectations of themselves, Jeff’s brilliance was helping his people learn from their failures.

We don’t learn a great deal from success, particularly if it comes easily and early. Believing it is due to our invincibility can make us arrogant. At best, we are unlikely to identify the true reasons behind our successes. It is often far easier to analyze why we failed than why we succeeded. With wise guidance, we can learn a great deal from our failures.

What does wise guidance look like?

  • Acknowledge the failure. Don’t dismiss it as nothing; failure is significant. However there is still a tomorrow. In the spring of 1940, after more than 300,000 British soldiers had just been rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk, Winston Churchill gave one of his famous speeches. After praising the miraculous rescue of the army and stressing ultimate victory, he said, “…We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations…” He then spoke these words as he brought his speech to a close. “…We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air…”
  • Find the lesson in the failure. However painful it may be to relive the embarrassment of the failure, it must be revisited and analyzed. Not only does this provide valuable insight but the discomfort also ensures that nobody in the family or business organization starts to tolerate failure.
  • Reward the incentive and effort even though it resulted in failure. This is often the most difficult part of leadership, however it vests all that preceded it with authenticity. It demonstrably proves that you are a parent or leader who genuinely encourages growth and who promotes reaching beyond the regular old comfort zone.

See how beautifully ancient Jewish wisdom presents this teaching in this verse:

You shall be consecrated to me. Therefore you shall not eat any meat that is torn by beasts in the field; you shall throw it to the dogs. – (Exodus 22:31)

There’s only one problem with this standard translation of Exodus 22:31. In the Hebrew original, it does not say, “…throw it to the dogs.”

Instead it actually says, “…throw it to the dog.” Singular, dog, not plural dogs. Furthermore, it doesn’t say to, “a dog,” meaning to any old dog, but to “the dog,” to one specific dog. Which dog?

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that this verse is referring to an incident in which a wild animal like a wolf or lion attacked and killed a sheep or cow in your flock. You may not eat of the remaining carcass. But wait! How did that happen? Well, even to the present day, farmers use dogs to help watch and guard their livestock. In this instance, the dog failed. Nonetheless, it is in the instinct of dogs to protect their masters’ property so we can assume this dog did his best but failed. It is specifically to your dog that you shall give the remaining carcass. He did fail; he knows he failed. Being an animal operating on instincts your dog is not going to become any less vigilant. He deserves the treat of the extra meat for the effort he usually makes to protect your property.

Something else that Winston Churchill said was, “Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” To make sure that those for whom you are responsible do move from failure to success, apply ancient Jewish wisdom’s three permanent principles. Acknowledge the failure; seek the lesson in the failure, and reward the person who failed for the effort he or she made.

There are many strategies like these for life success to be found in Ancient Jewish wisdom and I don’t think there is a more pleasant or entertaining way to absorb some of them than watching our TV program, Ancient Jewish Wisdom on the TCT network. We have collected twelve of the shows that received the greatest response into three DVD volumes.

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