We all want success in anything and everything we do. No one wants to fail. Failure happens, without us wanting it to happen. But failure has the power to make you successful if you use it to your advantage.
Okay, let me ask you a question: would you take a chance to attempt driving a car with broken headlights at night? I guess not. And that's because you anticipate the danger and the risk involved in taking such an action. Foreseeing or predicting the risk makes it useful for you to make appropriate decisions.
We are trained (consciously and unconsciously) to anticipate danger from risky situations to avoid accidents — not touching boiling water, checking on both sides of the street before crossing, not fooling around with sharp objects etc. You see, it can help us avert danger, or at least reduce its impact.
So why are we never trained to anticipate failure and actually succeed? Perhaps this is because failure is often associated with negative emotions — sadness, pain, annoyance, fear, shame, hopelessness. But if we train ourselves to examine and scan failures effectively, it can be a key to our success.
Anticipating failure is a great tool we can use to plot a better course and refine our strategy. Usually with some tweaks to our game plan, we can avoid or at least reduce the impact of a potential failure.
Anticipating failure has benefits
You know what a post-mortem is. It is practically an examination of a body after death also known as an autopsy. It helps determine the cause of death — in our case, failure. But what if we do a pre-mortem? This would mean foreseeing our own death. I know, it makes me cringe thinking about it. But I want you to focus on predicting a likely cause of your death or several of them if you are a real risk-taker.
Okay let me help you — heart attack, hit by a car, speed driving, drowning, complications due to diabetes, cancer, alcohol/drug abuse… also add those you are thinking of right now, if they are not listed here.
Now that you know the possible causes of your death and have performed a pre-mortem, that is anticipate it, it helps you appreciate the potential factors that might lead to these causes that can lead to failure. Once we know these factors, we could take necessary and practical steps to avoid the dreading end result — death or also failure in our case (Death was a just hypothetical situation).
This trick could possibly be applied to any given aspect of our lives — relationship, business, academics, career and even habits and resolutions.
Gary Klein came up with the concept of the pre-mortem in project management in the September 2007 issue of Harvard Business Review. He explains: “A pre-mortem in a business setting comes at the beginning of a project rather than the end, so that the project can be improved rather than autopsied. Unlike a typical critiquing session, in which project team members are asked what might go wrong, the pre-mortem operates on the assumption that the “patient” has died, and so asks what did go wrong. The team members’ task is to generate plausible reasons for the project’s failure”.
Using failure-anticipation as an early teacher
Honestly, there is little learning in success. It might give us power, money, fame and happiness but it doesn’t teach much. Relative to success, failure has a lot of lessons to teach, in fact, it can literally teach us how to succeed. Depending on how you take it, failure can even teach us how not to fail.
A failure is an opportunity to learn from the mistakes that have led to it. Failure is a great teacher and if you are open to it, every mistake has a lesson to offer. The only problem with failure is, we learn lessons after it happens to us.
But wait, what if you take the help of this teacher early on and not wait for the failure to happen. How, you ask? By merely anticipating failure, by training your mind to see and acknowledge what things can go wrong. Just like foreseeing danger guides us to avoid it, anticipating failure could have similar benefits.
Anticipating failure is only the first step to divert failure
Sometimes we already foresee failure or predict danger but do nothing about it. Some of us tend to play risky even after appreciating a higher tendency for failing.
Frank knew he had high blood pressure but still risked drinking alcohol, eating sugary and junk food every single day of the week that tend to increase the risk of heart attack. His doctor had warned him about the consequences of his lifestyle choices but he just didn’t care. Result: obvious anticipated outcome, HEART ATTACK ! Frank was just 40.
Just predicting failure won't help you to accomplish your goals successfully. The most important second chronological step would be to identify the problems in your plan before you begin. Next, develop strategies to fix these problems or take preventive measures to reduce the risk of failure.
Mary is a second-year medical student at a university. Mary is not very fond of Immunology — she thinks its too complicated. She has even missed a few immunology lectures this semester as she was not keeping well. Exams are approaching and Mary is quite worried about not doing well in the immunology paper and at worst failing the exam. She does not like the idea of failing.
She collects the notes from her friend, collects past exam papers from seniors, and goes for group studies. She watches YouTube videos about immune system that explains the complexity of the subject with so much ease and with visuals. After about 2 weeks of strategising using various techniques of increasing productivity and learning, Mary takes the exam. Result: She passes the exam and scores 60% in immunology paper.
Unlike Frank, Mary anticipated failure and took steps to immunise against failure that was just around the corner.
There are occasions in life when anticipating failure and tweaking your plans will not avoid failure. Sometimes, failures are inevitable. But remember, failure is not falling down, but refusing to get up. Learn from failure every single time.
But, anticipating failure at an early stage of planning might provide you with higher chances of succeeding than failing.