Fail More: A book review by Bob Morris

Fail More: Embrace, Learn, and Adapt to Failure As a Way to Success
Bill Wooditch
McGraw-Hill Education (March 2019)

The more you fail, the more you can learn. The more you learn, the more likely that you will succeed.

Thomas Edison would have agreed with Bill Wooditch that failure is an unconditional requirement for success. Years ago, when a dejected research assistant informed him that still another attempt to solve a filament problem had failed, Edison reassured him that “now we know another way that won’t work.”

That is to say, the more you fail, the more you can learn. The more you learn, the more likely that you will succeed.  Better yet, if you also learn from others’ failures, it is even more likely that you will succeed and probably much sooner than you otherwise would.

Of course, it is necessary to be aware of what Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham characterize as “the unknown unknowns.” This is probably what Mark Twain had in mind when observing, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure, that just ain’t so.”

Wooditch suggests, “Think of ‘failing more’ as ‘trying more.’ It’s a strategic way to collect and apply tactical knowledge and methods you can use for future benefit.” Moreover, “Success is a process that is always under construction…and failure is an indispensable teacher if you are a serious student of success.”

He makes brilliant use of several reader-friendly devices, notably a “Framing Failure” section at the conclusion of each of the ten chapters. “These are the required to master each chapter’s challenge. For our purposes, framing is defined as ‘making a construct by fitting parts together or in accordance with a plan.’ Our takeaways are designed with the following plan in mind: Use the takeaways today to start making changes in your life now. They’re exportable and fully developed for immediate use.”

For example, this is the challenge in Chapter 4: “Break Through the Obstacles That Limit Success.” Wooditch recommends and discusses three steps:

1. Open the door to change
2. Take a 3D look at the obstacle
3. Acknowledge an obstacle; denial of it will not remove it.

In Leading Change, James O’Toole suggests that the greatest obstacle to change is usually cultural in nature: becoming hostage to what he so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort  and the tyranny of custom.” In this context, I am also reminded of a reference by Warren Buffett to the chains of bad habits that are “too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”

Fail More is best viewed as a combination of manifesto and operations manual. Bill Wooditch begins with a call to action — “to embrace, learn, and adapt to failure as a way to success” — and then explains HOW to achieve that worthy objective.  I agree with him that a team effort will be needed, hence the wisdom of this African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

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