What is the best way to learn?
For many people, this year will go down as the “year of quarantine”. Lots of forced isolation and down time. For me, it will go down as the year that sparked my reading interest. I’m currently 30 books deep and pushing to finish another couple before the end of the year. Some people may look at 30 books in a year and say that’s pretty light. Well, for a guy who hasn’t voluntarily read a book since Y2K, it’s a big accomplishment. Let me celebrate even a small success!
I read a wide variety of books this year. Some books, like Ramit Sethi’s I will teach you to be rich, helped me get my finances in order. Others, like Richard Branson’s The Virgin Way, gave me plenty of insight into the business world and leadership. I even indulged in Phil Jackson’s Eleven Rings just days before The Last Dance documentary aired. But the book that left the biggest impression is the one that asked the toughest question. In The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle challenged us all to answer one simple question. Do we learn more from failure or success?
Learning the hard way
The late Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. I remember hearing or reading this quote plenty of times throughout my life. I never really thought about it too much until I started analyzing Daniel Coyle’s question regarding failure and success. What was more beneficial for Edison’s overall success, failing 10,000 times or being successful at 10,001?
Both play a massive role. His 10,000 failures are a test of his determination; some like to call it grit but we will get back to that later. Essentially, he is testing his will and building his character. How we respond to failures ultimately determine how successful we can be moving forward. Viewing failure as a soul-crushing life event can be mentally debilitating and hinder your progress. Instead, use failure as a barometer to test how serious you are about whatever it is you’re pushing to achieve.
As you may know by now, I’m a professional athlete and an entrepreneur. If any of you have played sports or embarked on the entrepreneurial journey then you know failure is inevitable. Let me give you the perfect example. In 2017, I launched my brand called Prime Focus Goalkeeping. The following year, I decided to put out a new model of goalkeeping gloves for the business. I’ve never been particularly good at design so when a manufacturer reached out to me with a glove design that I loved, I immediately hopped on it. Unfortunately, in business, rushing into things can often be a poor choice. Long story short, I ended up wasting thousands of dollars on goalkeeper gloves that I couldn’t sell. The manufacturer had sent the design to multiple other brands who he produced them for as well.
A few thousand dollars may not seem like a lot to some of you. To a small business owner who is just getting started, that can seem like the entire world has just come crashing down. It made me question whether I should continue running the business or simply cut my losses and move on. I think all business owners have reached this point at some stage. It was a massive, and costly, learning curve but I can look back on it now and say if I can get through that then I can get through anything. Failure helps you build the grit you need to be successful in whatever arena you’re competing in. We don’t strive for failure but we must learn from it and overcome it.
What doesn’t kill you…makes you stronger?
No, I’m not referencing Kelly Clarkson. What I am referencing is a section of one of my favorite books I read this year. Angela Duckworth’s Grit is a book I recommend you go get a copy of now. You can thank me later. The book explores perseverance and how it is used in various settings to achieve success. The portion that I found most eye-opening was her mention of a particular experiment with mice. I won’t bore you with all the scientific details, mainly because I can’t remember them all. But what I do remember, and will be etched in my brain forever, is the results.
One group of mice were subjected to a consistent shock but were able to stop the shock by simply touching their nose to the wall of their enclosure. The second group of mice simply had to endure the shock for the duration. Once the mice were put together in a normal environment, researchers noticed that the second group of mice tended to be more meek and scared. In essence, they had become weaker than the other mice who controlled their fate with a touch of their nose. This is a very simplistic explanation of the experiment but the data really resonated with me.
Often times, it’s not the failure that is crippling; it’s our response to the failure. Like the first group of mice, you can be proactive in stopping the pain (of failure) and ultimately it will help you to become a stronger person. Or you can allow the failure to encompass you and limit your decision-making moving forward, like the second group of mice. Failure is, more than likely, inevitable in your quest for success. How you respond to that failure will determine how much you learn from it. In turn, how much you learn ultimately determines the trajectory of your success.
The perfect marshmallow
Like many adult men, I participated in the boy scouts when I was younger. I was never really an outdoors kind of person but my mom thought it would be good for me. I’ll be honest, I didn’t pick up much from my time with the scouts. What I did learn was how to roast a marshmallow. How is that relevant? Let me set the scene. It was our very first camping trip as a troop. I was with some of my friends and a couple of their dads. After finding the best spot to pitch our tents, we immediately got to work on a fire. The dads let me and my friends have a shot at it first. We tried everything in the manual to get this fire started but after 5 or 6 attempts, we were ready to give up. Finally, the dads intervened and walked us through the step-by-step process. Before we knew it, there was a raging fire heating our small area.
The next night, my friends and I were determined to start the fire on our own. I will admit, it took us a couple of efforts, but in the end we got that fire going again. The sense of accomplishment was evident on all of our faces. We quickly grabbed our sticks and our marshmallows and started roasting. After a few burnt marshmallows, I decided to ask one of the dads if he could help me. He attached my marshmallow and proceeded to show me the ins and outs of roasting. Not too close to the flames, rotating your stick for even heat distribution, etc. I felt like an expert after about 5 perfectly cooked marshmallows.
The point of this story you may ask? I think back on that story often and wonder whether I would have learned to roast a marshmallow that weekend if I hadn’t first learned the proper way to light a fire. Would I have needed Edison’s 10,000 attempts before finding success on my own? We will never know. What I do know is that I was able to find success with a little help and that help spurred me on to build more fires that weekend. Ultimately, the success of the first fire brought me even more success and learning throughout the weekend. In the end, it’s all in the mindset. If you maintain a growth mindset then you can learn in any situation, whether it’s a failure or success. As an entrepreneur, I could have been better prepared to start my business. I look back at the many mistakes and realize, now, that I could have done things totally different with a bit more knowledge. However, those mistakes helped me develop the resiliency I have today.
Failure teaches you what not to do. It helps you learn more about yourself and your resolve. Are you someone that can respond to setbacks and turn them into positive learning experiences? Success gives you insight into best practices and can spur you into greater successes along the way. Learn from those who have done it before in order to avoid unnecessary pitfalls. It all comes back to Daniel Coyle’s question from the beginning. I would rather learn from success but failure provides an excellent learning opportunity as well. I would love to hear from the readers! Join in on the debate in the comments or reach out to me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn so we can further the discussion.