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See failure as a first step toward discovery, productivity

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Social scientist and Harvard professor Ellen Langer says failure is a state of mind, as is success.
FILE PHOTO/ROBERT SCOBLE Social scientist and Harvard professor Ellen Langer says failure is a state of mind, as is success.

Normally, failure is an uncomplimentary assessment.

Failure has few friends and many titles, such as unsuccessful, defeat, fiasco, debacle, calamity and devastation.

The person charged with failure often is described as a ne’er-do-well, untrustworthy, inadequate, flawed or negligent. Hardly anyone would choose these as an identity – yet we’ve all been there in one form or another.

Attempting to reverse the morass of failure is challenging, soul-searching and requires sorting through unconscious coincidences and unflattering realities.

The most effective method to confront failure is to take full responsibility, sort through the facts and begin a process for correction.


In her book “Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility,” social scientist Ellen Langer provides great insights for those in failed situations.

She suggests, “success is a state of mind, and so is failure; both are as varied as those who attempt to define each. Both require resonant leadership to overcome or succeed.”

It is heartening that there are effective responses to this debilitating mindset. You can teach yourself to respond to failure, learn from others or do both.

In many ways, the pursuit of questions is a far more important beginning, versus searching for answers.


Such an approach provides a path from self-victimization and inadequacy to responsibility, solution and the confidence to say how it will go.

Failure is rarely a sudden occurrence; it is usually preceded by events that were hurried, overlooked or ignored.

Langer suggests that opening our minds to what’s possible instead of presuming impossibility can lead to better health and happiness, resulting in competence and character in life and business.

Powerfully successful people anticipate happiness, health and accomplishment and believe they can overcome difficulties. One’s attitude on life has everything to do with one’s vision of themselves, others and the world.


Unreliable and incomplete work often is a source of failure. As an example, the principal intent of strategy is designing continuous sustainability.

Assuming your strategy was created under different circumstances and that it is no longer producing the results you planned, this unintended outcome could result from not taking into account all contingencies.

In this example, incorrect factual assumptions likely are the very cause of current failure.


When in a state of failure, it is unwise to try to resolve the situation alone.

Alignment with trusted partners provides a consistency of shared commitments, values and skills to go from failure to success. It helps one to stay focused on recovery as opposed to failure.

Successfully working together with talented contemporaries is distinct from “group think,” which stifles input and creativity.

Misalignment is antithetical to teamwork and workability. Alignment offers increased levels of skills, shared commitments and camaraderie.


Scholars say we are what we think, that our imagination has a way of making our thinking a reality.

Applying this premise encourages us to consciously monitor our thinking and use it to make the biggest contribution to ourselves and others for the greater good.

The legendary management expert Peter Drucker asserted that “sound ideas across management divisions beyond traditional thinking provide insights of enduring value.

“Our ability to imagine and assess and resolve problematic situations is more valuable than the most sophisticated machines available to mankind.”


Our greatest discoveries and inventions often begin with failure that resulted in unimagined breakthroughs. One could construe that failures are a precursor to our greatest successes.

Indeed, one could think of each failure as an unassailable rite of passage to initiate our next success.

As industrialist Henry Ford suggested: “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

Our failures could be a platform for our greatest productivity.

Jon Craighead, president of Craighead Associates LLC (www.craigheadassociates.com) of Pocono Pines, has more than 20 years of experience as a consultant, working with senior executives in Fortune 100 corporations to sole proprietorships. Serving the Poconos and northeastern Pennsylvania, he can be reached at jon@craigheadassociates.com.

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