Best readings on failure

Article by: Valeria Mecozzi
Best readings on failure

We all know how disruptive the experience of failure can be: that moment where it all comes to a stop, the towel is thrown, and everything is different. These are profound personal moments that can become torments if they are mishandled.


What happens when leaders get it wrong? The difference lies in how to fail: what one person sees as a debilitating disappointment another will renew into opportunity. Engineering the fail will allow you to master the passionate nature of creative leadership.


Here are four of the best readings about failure:


Cunning of Uncertainty

A look at how uncertainty feeds all of our behavior, written by Prof. Dr. Helga Notowny, Former President of the European Research Council. To not know the future is the core of human existence, one that we have tried to control over centuries by fortune telling, predictions, forecasting, and other forms of divination. We strive to find answers to our uncertainties, and meaning in everything. “Humans have put sense into everything, like salt on food.” The sensible explanation looks at how our desires center around survival and preservation, and to not know how to navigate the feelings of uncertainties heightens our sense of fear, leaving us exposed to sensibilities.

Learning to cope with the not-knowing means to build mental attitudes and intellectual behaviors that unleash creative confidence. Notowny’s professional background explores how mastering this uncertainty through cunning behaviors allows us to see how academia, scientific research, and big data move us forward and still hold us back.

readings on failure
To not know the future is the core of human existence, one that we have tried to control over centuries by fortune telling, predictions, forecasting, and other forms of divination. Click To Tweet

Positive Deviance

The book with the story of the study that changed it all: within a poor countryside village in Vietnam where malnutrition rates ran way too high, a few children stood out as healthy and fed. A team of research went to investigate the variables, and found that these “winners” had parents that were breaking from tribal wisdoms by experimenting with different foods and feeding schedules. Nature, they observed, works in similar pursuits toward excellence – small mutations don’t reinvent the whole species, but forge the improvement through small experiments.

This is Positive Deviance, a process that generates change for the good as it self-organizes its community. It doesn’t ask, “What isn’t working?”, but instead wants to know, “What is working against all the odds?” Who are the deviants in your community? Are they visible? The authors show how what starts slow can acquire astonishing velocity once a community takes ownership of its own problem and discovers its own proven remedy.

readings on failure
Don't ask 'What isn't working?' but instead, 'What is working against all the odds?' Click To Tweet

The Progress Principle

Curious to learn more about how leaders can encourage an experimental culture within a team, we turned to Progress Principle, which explains how to incorporate more meaning into work for engagement and creativity. A strong inner work life, the highest-ranking performance indicator, asks for attention to tasks, engagement and intention, thereby empowering risk-taking and confidence.

The authors design a process with three main drivers: the progress principle, which are the events to signify progress; the catalyst factors, which are the actions taken to support the mission; and nourishment factors, the support system around the person. The authors argue against some psych org. traditions that claim stress and discomfort galvanize performance – enjoying the process, reaching a state of flow, and encouragement showed to have longer lasting influence on long-term resilience. Reflection and journaling improved performance, and how to deal with losses and wins.

readings on failure
Enjoying the process, reaching a state of flow, and encouraging each other is proven to have a longer lasting influence on long-term resilience. Click To Tweet

Failing Firms and Successful Entrepreneurs

This academic paper, written by Ethics and Entrepreneurship Professor Dr. Saras Sarasvathy, celebrates entrepreneurial attempts and failures by honoring those who have blazed the path. Given that we know most firms ultimately fail, what can we say about the success (or failure) of entrepreneurs? By studying common literature around entrepreneurial success and bridging the space between event and entrepreneurs, she presents a tool to shape events rather than updating beliefs. For serial entrepreneurs, an endeavor serves as an instrument toward achieving eventual personal success. The authors use the principles of Bayes’ Law to describe conditional probability of firm failure and entrepreneurial success, mixed with what value is derived from serial failures.

Best readings: learning about failure
Celebrate your failures as well as your successes! #creativeleadership #entrepreneurship #failforward Click To Tweet

Further reading

To master the art of failure, join the THNK Executive Leadership Program.