Former GB Olympian and now journalist and author Matthew Syed gave a main stage presentation at the Inspiring Leadership 2016 conference. In his book ‘Bounce’ Syed focused on the debunking the myth of natural talent proposing that achievement of excellence is derived from 10,000 hours of high quality consistent practice, the equivalent of 10 year’s effort at an average of around 3 hours practice every day. He cites Mozart, tennis players the Williams sisters, chess master Bobby Fischer, footballer David Beckham and many others who have excelled in their chosen activity.
In his current book ‘Black Box Thinking’ Syed majors on the relationship between failure and success and in particular closed and open loop thinking systems.
Linking the two themes of 10 years consistent high quality practice and the ability to see failure as an essential ingredient for success is the existence of a ‘growth mind-set.’
Syed assets that those with growth mind-sets see failure as an opportunity to learn and therefore improve. The airline industry is used as evidence whereby each accident or incident is meticulously poured over to identify what failed and thus what can be improved to prevent a recurrence. Hence his book title, black box thinking.
Conversely Heath and Criminal Justice are cited as evidence of closed loop thinking systems where the authority of senior clinicians and lawyers is rarely challenged to any real effect such that deaths and wrongful convictions are justified as ‘one offs’ and mistakes are left to be repeated in future cases.
Failure then is the route to success and indeed it is necessary to fail multiple times in order to develop the ability to be super successful. This statement in itself seems incongruous but think of the Beckham free kick or the Wilkinson kick if rugby is more your thing. Each will testify to many thousands of hours’ practice, usually when everyone else had packed up and gone home, kicking, failing and adapting over and over to perfect exactly the right technique to land the ball where it needed to go. To achieve a goal.
Working in the live events industry you only get one chance to get it right once the event goes live. Although every project is different there are a number of set processes and systems that we tend to apply to each project managed. It is really important to us that when these systems and processes fail, for whatever reason, that we analyse what happened, identify the weakness and learn from the experience such that the error or shortcoming is not repeated in the future. Our project management system specifies that each project concludes with a client debrief session to ensure any observations from the client team perspective are captured and learned from.
It would be totally absurd to suggest that to be a highly successful business you need to increase your rate of failure. Imagine telling one of your clients, that you had selected one of their projects to be your next massive failure, but that you’d all enjoy learning the lessons.
The key is to accept and embrace failure when it happens and see it as an opportunity to learn and improve. Or as Syed puts it “failure drives both creativity and innovation” and without growth mind-sets and open loop systems in play, neither of these two things can happen in any walk of life.