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OPINION: ‘Failing forward’ toward economic success


The idea of “failing forward” has been written about by many business and inspirational writers over the years. Failing forward represents the idea of learning from any mistakes and getting back in the game as quickly as possible.

According to bestselling author Brian Tracy, failure is not irreversible. Self-made millionaires in America have been broke or nearly broke an average of 3.2 times before they finally developed the skills and experience that they needed to break through financially.

Failure is unavoidable. You will learn lessons from each mistake. A lesson is repeated until it is learned, and if you don’t learn the easy lessons, they get harder. You know you’ve learned your lesson when your actions change and you start getting better results.

Achievers keep trying different things until something works for them.

“If we could think of failing as a path towards success, then I think we would all be better off,” said John Krumboltz, co-author of “Fail Fast, Fail Often: How Losing Can Help You Win,” and a professor of education at Stanford University.

Another idea is to learn to develop a new definition of failure.

Successful people bounce back quicker because they are willing to take more chances and they define failure differently. They see failure as a “temporary setback” or a “learning experience,” rather than a personal rejection.

The classical musician George Frederick Handel had success as a musican as a young man. By the age of 56, he was in debt and felt that his music was unappreciated by his audiences. Handel bounced back and he wrote almost non-stop for 21 days, creating “The Messiah,” a musical masterpiece that is considered one of the greatest of all time. If Handel had sat around feeling sorry for himself, he would never have had the energy to keep composing, and be remembered centuries after his death.

The difference between those who succeed and those who fail is often based on the ability to spot an opportunity where other people only see problems. When Dr. Spencer Silver of the 3M Company accidentally discovered a new adhesive in 1968, it was considered a failure because it did not do the job it was supposed to do. Eventually this new adhesive was the key ingredient for the wildly successful Post-It notes.

These “failing forward” strategies could probably be applied to the Dayton economy. Dayton’s biggest setback, in my view, was the huge loss of manufacturing jobs related to the automobile industry.

Unfortunately, many of these jobs are never coming back, and so far, they have not been replaced by comparable high-wage careers.

Austin, Texas, saw its economy collapse in the 1980s because it was largely based on Texas oil, and there was a flood of cheap OPEC oil available. Real estate prices also went straight down at the same time. Instead of wishing for the oil industry to change back, Austin began recruiting high-tech industries through various business incentive programs. As a result, the Austin economy has boomed for the last couple of decades, and they are on many of the “best places” lists.

By applying some of these failing forward ideas, Dayton has a good shot at attracting the high-skilled, high-wage jobs that were lost when the auto parts manufacturers left a couple of decades ago. Worth a thought.

Rick Sheridan, a retired professor who does consulting on communications-related topics, is a regular contributor.



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