Will You Be a Fantastic Failure or Awesome Underachiever?

Is it better to ‘underachieve’ or to ‘fail’?

The Harvard Business Review Blog recently talked about the best type of failure to learn from.  The article states: “The essential insight is that partial failures are far more valuable than total breakdowns.”

photo by KungPaoCajun

photo by KungPaoCajun

So is failure too much to learn anything?

Apparently an element of success is necessary to allow greater success to follow.  Therefore, underperformance is preferable to complete failure.

In my mind, the words ‘failure’ and ‘underachiever’ are too subjective to differentiate.  The HBR piece even admits, “underperformance is a form of failure”.

This being the case, how prepared should we be to fail?  If we can’t answer that, how do we know how far to go before we’ve failed too much to learn anything from?

Stefan of Study Successful (who I mentioned just recently on here), told me that it’s important to fail:

“That is the way you will learn things! Underperform will take a lot of time to actually learn something…Failure will be a slap in the face, forces you to learn faster. How do you notice underperformance?”

Stefan explores the matter further at his blog.

As I see it, failure can be a slap, but only if you’re prepared to accept it.  The same can be said for underperformance.  If you’re in denial, you won’t let anything slap you down.  You must accept the fact that problems don’t just belong to other people.

Once you start the process of identifying personal weaknesses and admitting shortcomings, you’re in a better position to start learning from all sorts of failure.  In terms of the HBR piece, they were discussing the state of physical buildings.  While they make pertinent points, the situation isn’t as simple for our subjective and chaotic minds.  Physical forces are certainly unpredictable, but in completely different ways to the brain.

By the nature of who we are, we all make mistakes every day.  You can’t stop making them, but you can look at how to make sense of those mistakes, how to recognise mistakes, and how far you’re willing to accept your own mistakes in order to change.

The subjectiveness of failure brings up all sorts of opinions and ideas:

  • Seth Godin – “If you spend your days avoiding failure by doing not much worth criticizing, you’ll never have a shot at success.”
  • Daniel H. Pink – “Most people are more frightened of failure than of mediocrity. It should be the reverse.”
  • David Rogers – “Definitions of failure effectively put it as the opposite of success, being unsuccessful. However, failure is a far more emotive word.”
  • Ririan – “All it takes is for you to have the courage to fail once in a while.”
  • Michael J. Formica – “…we all possess the potential to rise from the ashes of our own defeat, if we can get out of our own way long enough to see what lessons that defeat has wrought.”

How do you learn from your mistakes?  What level of failure are you best at working with?  And would you rather develop after underachieving or totally failing?