Why Success Starts with Failure

I read a very interesting article recently by an entrepreneur called James Caan who features on a BBC television series in the UK called The Dragons Den.

He one of four judges [entrepreneurs] who evaluate business proposals with a view to investing. He is my favourite judge because he is not aggressive, is considerate and, I believe, treats people with dignity and respect. In my experience not all entrepreneurs are like that.

The article is entitled: “The Most Valuable Lesson that Changed my Life” and talks about failure. More pertinently perhaps, how failure is a necessary precursor for success.

In Caan’s case it was an investment in a sandwich chain that didn’t work out. The key reason he believed, was that he went against all his normal business principles and invested quickly – in a week despite having little knowledge of the sector.

The reason he did this because he thought that he could turn it around due to the fact that it had a highly recognisable brand. Six months later he had to admit defeat because, as he states, “you should never try to catch a falling knife!”

The key lesson that he took from the project was to stick to his beliefs by doing proper due diligence and analyse every deal thoroughly before proceeding. Or, perhaps as Oscar Wilde would say: “be yourself; everyone else is taken”.

I thought a lot about all of this in relation to having Asperger syndrome (AS), especially in a work context along with another quote by Caan in his article: “I am a firm believer that success is a journey rather than a destination”.

The latter is how I have viewed my progress both as a person and a professional manager ever since discovering my Asperger in the mid-1990’s. It has certainly been a journey alright and I have made numerous mistakes on the way. However, it has been via learning about – and from – my mistakes and being persistent, that I have acquired the knowledge to persist and achieve success.

As followers of me via my blog on my website aspergermanagement.com and readers of a number of the articles on it, I endured a massive career disappointment and personal “trauma” in a job that was my dream role.

There are too many examples inherent within that to quote here. Perhaps the hardest was the personal relationship I had with one manager – “Bill” – who contributed significantly towards terminally damaging my career and who seriously damaged my self-esteem and confidence.

Rather than going through the actual details I’d like to look at the lessons I learnt from the experience, how I have learnt and what I could have learnt more/done better as a result of it.

  1. Be willing to experiment and accept failure

Be conscious of being affected by Asperger has, like others on the spectrum, given me a sense of self-consciousness. This, in turn, affected my confidence. However, I have found that I simply have to face issues and force myself to try.

I have written before about how the hardest lessons have been the best and most beneficial learning experiences for me. Accepting that I might fail – but ultimately gain from the process – has been the most beneficial behavioural change. If you don’t experiment, you can’t win.

  1. Success comes from adaptation

The lessons learnt from my failures have at times been very hard. But by trying, failing and learning I have achieved the increase in knowledge and experience that has enabled quantum leaps in my abilities and performance to occur.

Each failure – or less than successful outcome – has been the basis for positive change via adaptation of my behaviours. I “learn by doing” and by trial and error acquire the skills that can take myself forward via incremental changes. Progression I have found does not occur overnight or via a single moment of genius.

For example, with communication I force myself to listen first. When initially starting a communication I begin with a positive towards the other person or their point of view. I find that this creates empathy, shows respect and reduces potential barriers.

As followers of me will know I have made “if you want to change somebody else, you have to change first” my personal mantra.

As the anthropologist Darwin apparently once said: it is not the strongest or most intelligent that succeed, but the most adaptable”. I may not be able to remove my Asperger – nor would I want to – but I know I can make beneficial adaptations.

  1. A sense of resilience

Absolutely and crucially I have learnt that change doesn’t come over night and I have to stick at the process of adapting and making changes. There is no other way.

Bringing about such fundamental change is not easy as it involved changing lifestyle patterns that are deeply entrenched and have been reinforced over a lifetime.

Having Asperger has taught me that I simply cannot afford to not change and be non-resilient, especially in a work context. The business environment or world of work is unforgiving.

The good news is that the more I face the issues, fail, learn and adapt, the more resilient I become.

To achieve this I have increasingly taken on-board the advice of Barbara Bissonnette, Asperger coach at ForwardMotion: seek small wins to gradually develop and build self-confidence; don’t take on excessively large projects all at once or allow oneself to run ahead of yourself.

  1. Sense of inner security

Over the years my lack of innate self-confidence has hindered the feeling of self-worth and inner security.

Again, there are no easy answers to this. Achieving the small successes referred to earlier assists, as does trying to avoid getting into problematic, stressful situations in the first place.

Understanding and knowing who I am also helps me greatly. By coming to terms with my Asperger, and knowing my strengths and weaknesses that result as a consequence, has enabled me to become self-aware of what I am capable of.

It won’t be appropriate to everyone of course, but I have also found faith to be beneficial. Though agnostic personally, I have been a regular church attendee with my wife and have taken on board the key lessons from homilies.

It has provided me with a code by which to live and operate. I find when I follow it I don’t go far wrong. This, in turn, fuels my sense of inner security. I will shortly be exploring the tenets of Buddhism as I believe these may provide further insights.

  1. An appropriate workplace culture

Perhaps the most personalised lesson I have learnt is to ensure that I do not put myself into situations that exacerbate the negative traits of my Asperger or put me in touch with people who are likely to antagonise and provoke me.

Aggressive cultures and people make me anxious and have induced a negative response. When the opposite is the case, I am calmer and more relaxed personally. I also work more productively and contently.

These aren’t the only reasons. However, seeing failure as an opportunity from which you learn is an incredibly powerful concept. A lot of it is also having personal courage, of which I – my most other people with Asperger – have in abundance deep down.


Managing with Asperger Syndrome