Not another hurdle …

I’d love to talk about success here, to inspire others, and to shed some light about what it takes to be successful.

However, I am not yet successful though I believe that I am on the right path to success. One thing that I do want to talk about is the fact that most press and publications cover success. We as a human race covet success (although we have failed to collectively agree on what success is)…. yet we all understand it, we know what it means to us, and we know that we want it.

Through the last 11 years of my life I’ve become somewhat an expert in successive failure. I find myself typically throwing myself into fields and tasks that I’m not traditionally qualified for and trying to ‘figure things out’ as they present themselves to me.

In this process I’ve learned two important lessons from failure that I think are a major part in my optimism about my impending success. These two realizations are both simple and profound….

  1. Not another hurdle
  2. Chain theory

Not another hurdle:

Even though many people think of failure as an everlasting perpetual state, it is more accurately described as a moment in time. The greatest runners at the olympics were one time infants that could not walk. How can they be great runners if they are failures at walking? The greatest chef’s on the planet are alway discovering and experimenting with new ingredients… failing at one recipe only to come up with and try another… the greatest technologies on the planet such as mobile phones, computing, dna research and agricultural crop modifications have all at some point or another been labeled as epic failures.

The insight that a person like myself gains from failure is that failure is finite. It happens in a moment of time, under certain conditions, due to certain internal or external limitations, and in reference to a predefined set of expectations.

Most self help books will take the easy way out and tell you to ‘redefine expectations’ so that whatever it is that you do possess now looks like a success rather than a failure. This is absolute bullshit.

Yes in general people should enjoy life experiences more and covet things less. Yes we should adjust our expectations of things that aren’t really that meaningful to us (like cars that we buy to show off, or clothes that we wear to appease others).

However, lowering your standards so that you can can your current situation a success is cowardice if anything.

The better solution to dealing with failure is to realize that failure is a hurdle. Like a speed bump in the road, it should not kill your momentum. Yes it may slow you down, but ultimately, if you’re doing anything worth doing, then this is not going to be your first speedbump, nor is it going to be your last. Failure, similarly is finite, painful, very obvious (as obvious as driving over a speed bump in an otherwise perfect road), and repetitive in life and in your career.

Taking this point of view on failure does one important thing… something simple, yet profound …

Look at your problems and smile: You are not the first problem I’ve faced, nor will you be the last… and although you look big and strong right now, I can assure you this, I’ve surpassed many problems like you before… through hard work, determination, strategy, creativity, diligence, education, raising my game, trying hard, breaking through, consulting a friend, rallying more troupes and most strategic of all ‘waiting for the winds to shift in my favor’… I don’t remember most of the other problems I’ve been stuck on before, and pretty soon I will pass you and forget you.

I will not yell “Not another hurdle!” in frustration because in fact, you not even another  hurdle. You are an opportunity in disguise and I thank you for presenting yourself….

Chain Theory

We live in a pretty complex world nowadays filled with complex decisions, complex systems and complex repercussions to our actions. Many times when we face failure we generalize the causes of our failure and allow ourselves to exit the arena saying that the timing was wrong, the game was rigged against us, the odds weren’t fair, or that the problem was just unsolvable and that failure was unavoidable.

A better solution in facing failure would be to think about the links that create the chain that is the process that has failed.

Let me give you a single example:

In a typical triathlon the athlete swims through a lake, then rides a bike course and then runs a half marathon before completing the race. This simple event breaks down to three clear stages that must all be completed competitively for a runner to win:

  • The swim
  • The cycling
  • The run

At a very high level, most people do NOT break down their problems or analyze their failures down to their stages. Working on your run, for 8 hours a day, will not enable you to win the Triathlon if the cause of your failure is that you can’t swim to save your own life.

YET, in many aspects of life we find people trying to MASK their failure by OVER-INVESTING in the wrong part of the process. Over-polishing your resume when you have no internship experience will never make you more experienced. Investing in more advertising and marketing will not sell your product if the product itself is horrible or the product concept is flawed. Spending 10 hours a day in the gym will not help you lose weight if you live on a diet of doughnuts and pizza… and so on.

At a deeper level, we can break down every stage in the triathlon to its relevant parts:

The swim breaks down to:

  • Your endurance
  • Your stroke and technique
  • Your breathe and stamina
  • Your power to weight ratio

The cycle breaks down to:

  • Your lower body strength
  • Your transition time on and off the bike
  • Your posture and lower back strength
  • Your aerodynamic friction and your body and bike profile
  • Your ability to pace you performance for hills and valleys

The run breaks down to:

  • Your core strength in your mid section and your abs
  • Your breathing and stamina
  • Your running technique (which parts of your feet hit the ground, how hard, and how you bounce back off the pavement)
  • Your average pace and your ability to pace yourself
  • Your mental fortitude (as most people quit in pain or exhaustion when they physically were able to push on).

Now that is a list of 15 measurable, bench-markable and actionable items that you can use to analyze the cause and solution to your failure.

The chain theory goes as follows:

Complex processes are organized in a sequencial chain such that a failure in any one part of the chain will result in an overall failure of the process. The right way to deal with these systems is to break them down into smaller measurable and actionable areas of focus, come up with hypothesis for testing that part of the system and diagnosing it and then verify that it alone works as expected. The number 1 mistake people make is to make assumptions about the overall process and continue ‘playing’ with the system trying to create some sort of heuristic relationship between messing with different parts of the system and the overall output.

Professionals on the other hand break the problem down to smaller chunks and work on them with higher focus. This is why a soccer team has separate drills focused on strategy, team work, passing, stamina, running, strength training, defensive and offensive tactics, free kicks, penalty kicks …etc

By breaking down the complex problem of training a player into distinct areas of focus, the coach is more quickly able to identify and address each player’s weaknesses and produce a better system where the entire chain (from goalie, to defense, to midfielders, to attackers to strikers) work together to produce success.

Takeway:

1- Do not be discouraged by failure. Take some time off. Collect your thoughts. Revisit the problem with new energy, new strategy, new ideas, or new tools. Recognize that this is just one of many hurdles on the path to success and that you should never be discouraged… this too shall pass.

2- Never assume that the failure of a complex system is due to the most obvious parts of the system. Break down the problem to smaller measurable chunks. Create a hypothesis about how each part should operate and test it against your assumptions. Identify failing parts of the system and fix them. Once you have done this for all parts of the chain, only then can you expect success to flow through the system from entry point to exit point without getting blocked somewhere in the middle. Elevate your focus and invest in solving problems at their root. A clogged artery cannot be fixed by overcompensating with higher blood pressure or a stronger heart or a higher heart rate. These types of forceful solutions might work for the short term, but in the long run you will have a healthier and better flowing system by removing the clots rather than trying to force blood flow through a clogged system.

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