John Arlidge has written a fascinating book called ‘Adapt: Why success always starts with failure’.  The more we fail, he says, the more we succeed.  Since I have failed so often in my life, I very much warm to this encouraging message.

My failures are, you’ll be relieved to hear, too numerous to catalogue, starting with the 11 plus and, more recently, having my paintings rejected for the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition.  This despite my watercolours being superior to most of the exhibits (that’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it!).  Never mind, this very morning someone has bought one of my fundraising watercolours and made a donation to Prisoners Education Trust.  Nice to know that there are some discerning people out there.

John Arlidge’s argument is basically that if at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again.  He claims that the key to success is constant experimentation.  ‘Accepting trial and error means accepting error’.  I have a small niggle here since I would rather place explicit emphasis on learning from errors, not just accepting them.  I therefore much prefer the expression ‘trial and learn’ rather than ‘trial and error’.  But the main point is the importance of experimenting in order to learn, rather than giving up in despair.

The point about failures is that they tend to hurt and attract more of our attention than rip roaring successes.  Success, especially when it is unexpected and feels undeserved, tends to lull us into a state of cosy complacency, albeit temporary.  We don’t feel especially motivated to reflect on successes so that we can build on them and do even better next time round. But there is as much to learn from analysing successes as there is from failures; the difference is purely motivational.

I think it was Winston Churchill who said, ‘Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm’.

Keep failing and learning.

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