The sound of failure

Failure can be the most useful experience of all, as long as you don't accept it.

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By  Eliot Beer Published  April 1, 2007

Why is there such a social stigmata attached to failure? It happens to everyone, sooner or later - and yet a huge part of what passes for business culture throughout the world is dedicated to avoiding failure.

In the Middle East, this seems to be even more the case. No one wants to admit a mistake, no one want to be seen a failure.

This is - on one level purely selfishly - a matter of some importance to me. When we write case studies about particular IT implementations, the end users almost never want to talk about their failures - the mistakes, the problems, the regrets.

And yet, ironically, these are probably the most useful pieces of information for their peers - if you know where someone else went wrong, it's much easier to avoid making the same mistake.

The other irony is, without failure we probably wouldn't see as much conspicuous success. Often when people fail, it acts as a very powerful learning experience - mostly, I would suggest, out of a burning desire never to be caught in that particular situation again.

But failure can also give some people a very powerful drive to succeed in spite of having failed. Call it pride, call it determination, call it whatever you want - failure can be a powerful motivator, much more so than success, in a large number of cases.

Perhaps an important distinction to make here is between failing, and being a failure. To fail is one thing - but to accept this and see oneself as a failure is quite another matter.

Why am I addressing this in an editorial in a networking magazine? As I hinted above, failure is a fact of life when it comes to deploying complex IT systems - some statistics suggest that up to 70% of all IT implementations fail.

Even if this is an inflated figure, there are significant numbers of projects out there which do not go to plan, for whatever reason. And as I've mentioned, these projects are the most interesting and valuable as case studies.

I'm not suggesting that NME readers should start writing in with their lists of failed projects (unless they have a burning desire to...). But by being more realistic about projects and admitting that not everything will run smoothly even in an excellent implementation, the region's IT professionals will be able to have much more satisfying ‘sharing experiences'.

This is something which is starting to change - even outside the IT sector, regional mogul Mishal Kanoo recently discussed his willingness to embrace failure. And more and more IT managers are willing to discuss the challenges they faced in their various projects.

And the other reason for my focus on failure is the NME Awards (held on 2 April, if you missed them). Awards being awards, not everyone can be a winner - someone, somewhere is guaranteed to fail.

So, if you had been nominated, and failed to win an award - I'd suggest not thinking of it as the end; just take it as a sign that you will have to come up with something even more impressive next year.

Because if you really want something badly enough, failure is not an option...

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