Lessons from Failure

By     Mar 14, 2016
President, Director & CEO of the Toledo Museum of Art

Brian Kennedy

Failure is one of our key opportunities to learn from experience. In many respects, we learn more from our failures, those efforts that did not work, than we do from our successes. But it requires paying close attention.
The virtuous cycle of plan, implement, evaluate, works well personally as well as professionally. Oftentimes, our failure is related to poor planning, but more often to poor execution of strategy. Leaders are often better at planning than they are at implementing, because the latter requires causing people to truly follow you, implementing a plan which they have, ideally, joined in developing and heartily embrace.

Evaluation is not something that should merely be done by oneself, given that your reputation is what other people say about you. So embracing the opinions of others about one's efforts will help to give a more clear-eyed view of the extent to which they have failed or succeeded. Whether one gets up again after failure is directly proportionate to the extent to which one sees the world as a glass half full or a glass half empty. Perhaps this is something that is inside of oneself, but I am a thorough going optimist and therefore never allow myself to see the world as anything other than half full.

Experience teaches us to embrace failure, to understand it as part of personal growth. Failure seems to imply too much negative as a word, if it is seen to add no value just because something did not work. Everything works, in one way or another, if you take the time to consider its value. Failure teaches great lessons of the value of perseverance and patience. This is the long view of experience that, often, there are many ways to go about something, and just because it does not work one way, is not a reason why it will not work another. Success is so often to do with timing, and we need to do the right things with the right people, in the right way at the right time, in order to succeed.

Of all lessons, failure should teach us never to be too hard on ourselves, because it surely is not for want of trying that we succeed.