figure out why it turned out that way.
Was there a confounding variable? Does
the method only work under certain
conditions? Was the hypothesis invalid?
By figuring out what went wrong, then
designing and conducting a new experiment taking that factor into consideration, you will learn more than you
would have if the first experiment had
turned out as expected.
In a way, scientists are trained to
fail. The process is to develop a hypothesis, then design an experiment to test
that hypothesis. In a sense, either way it
fails: Either the experiment fails to disprove the hypothesis, or it does disprove
it, showing that the hypothesis was
wrong in the first place. In either case,
you have learned something; you have
pushed back the frontiers of knowledge
a tiny bit.
Every so-called failure eliminates
some possibilities and narrows the
scope of future research. You’ve all
heard the stories of failures that led to
eventual success. For example, Thomas
Edison did not repeatedly fail to invent
the first commercially viable incandescent light bulb, he just found 1,000
ways that did not work. While the exact
number of lightbulb attempts differs
among sources, the sentiment remains
the same. By trying things, even things
that did not work, he increased his store
of knowledge and moved closer to the
eventual solution. He learned how to do
things by trying, failing, then trying a
different way. Eventually, Edison found
what did work.
Growing from Failure
It’s not only scientists who fail. Everyone, no matter what her or his career,
does so at some point, some much more
often than you realize. The highest-ever
batting average in major league baseball is held by Ty Cobb, at .366. That
means he failed to hit the ball 63.4% of
the times he was at bat. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had an eFG% of 55.9—he made
slightly more than half of the shots he
attempted. Yet no one would call either
of them a failure!
Failure is not a character flaw, or
even a bad outcome; it is part of life. By
doing something repeatedly, whether
it’s hitting a ball, shooting a basket, or
running a spectrum, you get better at it.
Your skill improves as you get a feeling
for what the limits are and for what is
and is not possible. You will probably
never get it right 100% of the time, but
that’s okay. Dealing with those repeated,
small deviations from perfection will
teach you to be persistent and resilient.
In the pharmaceutical (and other)
industries, there is a motto: “Fail early,
fail often.” If a project is not going to
work out, you want to know as soon as
possible, before you have invested too
much money and time in it. The faster
you realize something is not going to
work, the faster you can move on to the
next possible solution, and eventually
get to the successful one. If you think
something is no longer heading for a
positive outcome, admit it as early as
possible. Ask for help, and see if you
can change the parameters in order to
make it a success. If you do this quickly
enough, there may be time to come up
with a different solution that will work
just as well—or maybe even better.
Trying new things is how you learn
and grow professionally. If you keep
doing what you have always done, it’s
true that your outcomes won’t get worse.
However, if you avoid trying new things,
your results also will never get anything better. If you never fail, it probably
means you never tried anything new, and
you didn’t take any risks. Learning from
varied outcomes is called experience.
Fear of Failure
In addition to actual failure, fear of
failure can hold you back from professional success. It can make you hesitate
to venture beyond what you know will
work or to try anything new. However, if
you learn to view failure as an opportunity to learn and grow, and not something to be feared and avoided, you will
be able to explore new approaches and
innovate with confidence. Plus, in most
cases, the only way to get big rewards is
to take big risks.
If this fear is an issue for you, start
small. Think about something you want
to try, and ask yourself whether there’s a
way to minimize the negative impact if
it (not you) should happen to fail. Suppose you are considering changing your
career—leaving the lab, and moving into
management. Yet you hesitate to try.
What if you’re not any good at managing others? What if you don’t enjoy it?
While planning TO fail is usually
not a good idea, is there a way you can
plan FOR limiting the effects of a possible failure? For example, could you
take on a small bit of management, or
the supervision of just a couple of people? If you purposely start small, you
face smaller consequences if you find
out that supervising others is not what
you thought it was going to be, and you
don’t like it—or you just aren’t good
at it. It is not necessary to conclude
that you “failed” at being a manager.
Instead, you could say that you tried
something new and learned that you
don’t like it, or that you learned what
you need to do differently next time to
be more successful. By not being afraid
of outcomes, you free yourself to try
Failure as Motivation
Failure can be turned into motivation.
Some people become determined to
overcome an unexpected outcome, to
find a way to accomplish the goal anyway. They see it not as an endpoint, but
as the starting point of a new challenge.
You can view negative results as information about the limits of the problem
and a pathway to developing new skills.
By using these experiences to build a
deeper and wider skill set, you will be
better prepared for the next challenge.
BY USING THESE
BUILD A DEEPER
AND WIDER SKILL
SET, YOU WILL