Food for Thought – Failure

Failing is something that gets a lot of attention these days.  Simple adages like “fail fast” and “failure is the first step”  float around in business school lectures and on meme’s all over the internet.  In my opinion this obsession with failure tends to gloss over a key point.  Failure is a transition, it is simply moving from one thing to the next.

In other words, Failure is just the start of the next mission.

But transitioning between missions can be dangerous if you aren’t practiced or prepared.

Planning for Failure vs. Planning to Fail

Crisis response, emergency preparedness, contingency planning… these are all things that get put in place to help us transition from a point of failure.   When you develop, prepare, and practice these plans you are planning for failure.

On the other hand, failure to plan effectively is basically planning to fail.

Readiness is King

being prepared physically, mentally and emotionally is the first and arguably most important phase of preparing for failure.  Failure comes with a physiological response which can be better controlled by a high degree of physical fitness.  You will also need to think critically and quickly to adapt your actions as you transition which requires a reserve of intellectual knowledge and wisdom to make fast decisions.  Every thing that is happening will also be stewing in a soup of emotions about the failure, the change and the challenges ahead and being able to balance and control those emotions will stabilize your efforts.

Here are the basics:

Ask What If Questions

So you have a plan… what if it fails?  Just asking this question gets you started by accepting failure is a potential reality you may need to face.  Be careful not to get stuck here.  It is easy to ask what if questions endlessly and needlessly.

Practice Failing

Sounds ridiculous right?  It’s not.  you can simulate the physiological, mental, and emotional responses to failure by putting yourself in benign situations that trigger a mild stress response.  And some of them aren’t terrible.

  • Cold Exposure (Cold Showers)
  • Heat Exposure (Saunas)
  • Competitive team sports

Failure is a Team Sport

The last point I want to make about failing is that if you prepare you life correctly you never have to fail alone.  Seeking out coaches and mentors is a powerful way to prepare to transition beyond failures.  These relationships help you stay on track and recover when things aren’t going according to plan.

At a minimum, you should have three mentors

  • A peer in your line of work
  • A superior in your line of work
  • Someone completely outside your line of work


What do you do to prepare for failure, are you ready for the transition?  

Come on over to our closed facebook discussion group to share your thoughts and join in the discussion.  Or you can email me directly at  If you are interested in further reading check out other Food for Thought articles and learn all about the Archetypes of Skill.  You can also sign up to receive The Friday Huddle, a short weekly email from me that gives you the tips, insights, and musings that have gotten me through the week.

Live Skillfully!


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