An excerpt from The Refractive Thinker®: Volume I: An Anthology of ...

The concept of failure: what is it? How do we define it? How are we defined by it? And most importantly, what do we do with it?

The idea of failure is a difficult concept for most, a nebulous intangible that is as different as the person destined to interpret it. Why one may ask? Fear mostly. The idea of failure is at the top of a list of words most likely to make those hearing it uncomfortable, almost instantaneously.


First let us look at the function of failure, perhaps then we can look at why this idea has earned such a negative reputation. To explain, let's meet Peter. Peter is a plumber with more than 20 years experience in plumbing, certified in all areas of plumbing problems.

Now let's dig deeper as to why one hires a plumber exactly. One might think we would hire Peter to fix our sink, right? Not quite.

We are looking for what I call outcome based thinking--where we are willing to exchange money for the services of a plumber to fix our plumbing situation or outcome. This is not quite exactly what we are paying Peter for exactly. Insead we are paying for Peter's failure. Stop. Take a breath and let me say that again. We are paying for all the times that Peter the Plumber has failed in the past to fix our particular plumbing problem today. What we are really paying Peter for is his experience to fix our plumbing crisis, this time, the first time, the right way. For Peter to maximize his efficiency and the ability to make money--it is ideal that he would want to fail faster to succeed sooner--and ultimately make more profits.

So while many of us are astounded that for a mere 15 minutes, our trusty Peter the plumber may charge $100 or more, there is much more at work here. Instead, what we are not paying Peter for his 15 or 30 minutes that he is spending in our home. Instead what we are paying him for is for his education and experience failing before he ever arrived. However long it may have taken him, we are paying Peter for his education in how not to fix our plumbing, so that this time, he will fix it the right way.

The quicker Peter failed (Translation: learned how not to fix something), the sooner he succeeded--and learned. Hopefully, Peter continues to learn to embrace the concept of failure to learn to be more efficient, more effective, and exceptional in what he does.

Dr. Cheryl Lentz is available for speaking on these topics and others. Be sure to download our brochure for further details.

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Comment by Deborah J. Boyd on July 27, 2010 at 3:53pm
Dr. Cheryl, this is really interesting and I have not read anything like it. I am working on my PhD in Educational Leadership and the thesis I have decided to take up is why students drop out of school in America and what can be done to correct it. This offers a new perspective. Thanks for inviting me to be your friend.

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