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Issue Date: November 2003 (es)

When failure is not an option

1 November 2003
Rick Parry, MD, Progress Software, South Africa

Simply say the words, "Failure is not an option," and you issue a challenge to the prevailing mindset. By and large, human beings do not deal with failure well; we tend to give up too easily, we do not like to take the knocks and bounce back. In our complacency, we fold and pull out of the game, casually accepting that `that is the way it is'.
But if things really are that way, why do certain people succeed again and again? I believe that anyone can achieve almost anything if they put their mind to it. People who succeed also fail, but they consider each failure, take the knock and figure out what they have to do differently to achieve success. If what you have just done did not work, what other route could you have taken? How else could you have approached the same problem?
It is also vital to understand that success is not an immediate thing. You are not going to get things right first time. You need to fail in order to learn how to succeed, to learn from mistakes. But as you progress, your fundamental attitude of mind has to be that you are going to do everything in your power to succeed.
As you spread this mindset through your organisation, it is also important to understand that there are one or two pitfalls. If you create a belief that failure is not an option, you can also create a fear of failure. Typically what can then happen is that it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. People become afraid to fail and do not bother to try in the first place. These may be people that believe that 'the glass is half empty'.
To overcome this, you need to encourage such people. The new mindset must not become a fear factor. When they show signs of being afraid, spur them on to try harder. If and when they stumble or fall, be there to pick them up. Dust them down and let them start again. You will be surprised how quickly such people discover that 'the glass is half full'.
The second danger occurs when people understand that they have to keep on trying, but continue to do the same thing. As the old saying goes, to keep doing the same thing and expect a different result is a definition of insanity. Encourage your staff or team members to look for alternatives or different methods. Help them to think laterally or see the problem from different angles.
To embrace the concept that failure is not an option has implications broader than just for your company. South Africa really needs people who want to make a difference, who want to make changes and to be part of the change process. Of course there will be knocks on the way. We have all had such knocks. But we pick ourselves up, brush ourselves down and start again. As a nation, we cannot accept failure.
Sometimes I look around and ask whether we are a nation in which the complacency level is higher than other parts of the world. Could it have something to do with the legacy of the past, in which SA was run by a dictatorship that told us what to do and think? Many of us, particularly older members of the white community, accept too quickly that 'that is the way things are'. But if you accept mediocrity, you can only become mediocre.
On the other hand, I am very encouraged by the number of young black entrepreneurs that I meet in the IT industry who are driven to make a difference. They are passionate about their businesses. They want to compete on the world stage. They understand that failure is not an option.
Begin the process of inculcating this philosophy throughout your organisation by really close examination of every deal you make, win or lose. What did the team have to go through to close the sale? How far did you get before it broke down? Was there something else you could have done? And - most importantly - what did this look like through the eyes of the customer? Adjust your actions accordingly and try again.
To say that failure is not an option is to adopt a mental attitude which is all about success. It is about going the extra mile. Britain's wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill, put it best when he said, "Never, never, never, never give up!"
Rick Parry, MD, Progress Software, South Africa
Rick Parry, MD, Progress Software, South Africa
For more information contact Rick Parry, Progress Software South Africa, 011 254 5400,

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