One of the best parts of Warren Bennis’ On Becoming a Leader was his own examination of embracing failure throughout the book, but especially in his sub-chapter ‘Reflection and Resolution’.  He has so much fine material that I have excerpted from it extensively below.  His embrace of failure means ‘reflecting’ on it more than most people do naturally or find comfortable

 

“On the subject of reflection, Barbara Corday said, ‘Unfortunately, too often it’s people failures that get them to reflect on their experiences.  When you’re going along and everything is working well, you don’t sit down and reflect.  Which is exactly the moment when you should do it.  If you wait for a giant mistake before you reflect, two things happen.  One, since you’re down, you don’t get the most out of it, and two, you tend only to see the mistake, instead of all the moments in which you’ve been correct.”

 

“It’s true.  Most of us are shaped more by the negative experiences than by positive ones.  A thousand things happen in a week to each of us, but most of us remember the few lapses rather than our triumphs, because we don’t reflect.  We merely react…”

 

“In fact, mistakes contain potent lessons – but only if we think them through calmly, see where we went wrong, mentally revise what we’re doing, and then act on the revisions.  When a great batter strikes out, he doesn’t linger for a moment over the good, but instead sets about to improve his stance or swing.  And great batters do strike out – Babe Ruth not only set a home run record, he set a strikeout record as well.  Think what a great batting average is:  .400 – which means a great batter fails to get a hit more than half the time.  Most of us are paralysed by our goofs.  We’re so haunted by them, so afraid that we’re going to goof again, that we become fearful of doing anything…”

 

“The point is not to be the victims of our feelings, jerked this way and that by unresolved emotions, not to be used by our experiences, but to use them creatively.  Just as writers turn experiences from their lives into novels and plays, we can each transform our experiences into grist for our mill.  Isak Dinesen said, ‘Any sorrow can be bourne if we can put it in a story.’  Your accumulated experiences is the basis for the rest of your life, and that base is solid and sound to the degree that you have reflected on it, understood it, and arrived at a workable solutions.”

 

“As both [Gloria] Steinhem and Gould have said, too much intellectualizing tends to paralyze us.  But true reflection inspires, informs and ultimately demands resolution.  Steinhem leaps first and looks or reflects later.  There is something to be said for that headlong approach, but only if you are able to see mistakes, failures, as a basic and vital part of life.  Most of us, unfortunately, aren’t that wise or that cool-headed.  It is the pioneers like Steinhem, the ones who head straight for the unmapped territory marked only by the legend, ‘Here there be tigers,’ who believe so much in what they’re doing that they accept risks inherent in such undertakings as a part of the job.” 

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