Success and Learning – A Jog in the Park

by Ken Ott

“You must expect failure as part of your journey of success, failure and success go hand in hand, you cannot have one without the other.”    –Richard Parkes Cordock

Do you know people who plan to fail? I don’t think many people plan to fail, unless they have a winner’s mindset or are depressed. I believe we all generally plan to succeed. (And sadly for some people, that’s succeeding at being a failure or loser, often due to childhood conditioning or maybe trauma.)

The only difference between us all:  our levels of persistence, strategy, mindfulness, social capital, resources. We have different definitions of success as individuals, generations, societies, and at different times of our lives. We have different resources, levels of charisma and charm, raw intelligence, access to movers and shakers, even luck!

I haven’t shared with you the ratio of what determines how  successful you can be, yet. As Tony Robbins the self help guru says, “psychology is 80% and the mechanics (methods) of achieving success is 20%.” A winner’s mindset is practically everything you need! The resources will come to you, or you will find a way to obtain them, with the right mindset. Tony also says that there’s just “success and learning” – not success and failure. This is extremely insightful for those of us striving for positive results!

As an elementary school kid, I thought that success was wearing a letter jacket in high school and driving a Chevy Camaro. (Neither happened.) As an adult, I highly value having close friends, a vocation I enjoy, health and well-being, outdoor hobbies, family, savings, and having my own business. I do my best each day to improve each of these. I know–typical Silicon Valley overachievement/ FOMO culture.

I think success and failure birth each other. They are like seasons, but with two seasons instead of four. Two sides of a coin. Yin/yang. Dead/alive. You can be slightly dead and slightly alive, but you’re definitely one or the other. Right?

In one example of a successful outing, I jogged outdoors at a huge park while it was still light out in another state that I was visiting for the first time. I loved the scenery of Sharon Woods Park in Blue Ash, Ohio in summertime – it felt like I was in Asia again! It was exhilarating to jog outdoors among green trees after a day of stuffy business meetings–far away from the caramel colored hills of California–in humid outdoor air instead of a hotel room.

It got dark quickly and I couldn’t see too well anymore, except for magical fireflies which I hadn’t seen in the US before. It was July, but I was further north in Ohio than the SF Bay Area (somewhat). Pretty soon, I could barely see my unlit jogging trail and became slightly anxious about being able to get back. Was I going to fail?

Instead of panicking, I  turned on a phone light (flash), eventually making my way back to the main road for a Lyft ride. The next time this happened, I would take a flashlight, or not stay out so late by checking sunset times and calculating how long I could be outside.

Lake at a park in Blue Ash, Ohio
Algae covered lake at a park in Blue Ash, Ohio. Photo taken at dusk.

Did I plan to fail (jog way past dark while on a busy business trip)? Not consciously. I did plan to fail by not planning my jog completely — channeling serendipity instead. I ran off without paying much attention to timing. I was able to do that because  smartphones literally provide a lifeline. I planned to have my phone in case of any situation, including being out too late. This led to a successful outing.

To me, being out late was not a failure. Being stranded in the dark in a huge park would’ve been a failure if I didn’t get out or was swallowed by a sharktopus, but these scenarios didn’t happen.

If I had failed, I would have learned from failure, and succeeded the next time.

* * *

What about group success and failure? 

Cape Upright, St. Matthew Island, Alaska
Cape Upright, St. Matthew Island, Alaska

Success of a species usually leads to population increases. For example, the infamous deer population of St. Matthew island . The US Coast Guard dropped off some deer there in the 1950s as backup food for scientist researchers. The deer bred like rabbits, eating all vegetation, mostly slow-growing lichen. Can you guess what happened? The deer population grew exponentially–as if they had suddenly discovered how to convert petroleum into food. Eventually, their food ran out and many thousands of deer died in one year to just a couple dozen animals before rebalancing at a more sustainable level.

See this comic about the deer.

Panel from the comic at: http://www.stuartmcmillen.com/comic/st-matthew-island/
Panel from the comic at: http://www.stuartmcmillen.com/comic/st-matthew-island/

Another example is Microsoft Windows which became highly dominant in the 1990s onward. Dominating the PC operating system market was Bill Gates’ financial success. But success led to failures. Windows security was legendarily weak, leading to all manner of virus jokes based on annoyingly widespread infections.

In a small way, Windows insecurity may have led to the widespread adoption of Linux OS software, which now ironically powers most of Microsoft’s websites. That is not exactly a success story for Microsoft. Nowadays though, in response to its failure to provide secure software, Microsoft’s security is significantly improved, though no company’s OS is 100% immune to opportunistic shenanigans.

Huge success produces copycats, predators, and diseases (or famine) exploiting a “successful” idea, business, or population. Success by the exploiters leads to tougher defenses or new features by the exploited to stay ahead of the game.

Failure breeds innovation:

  • Chipped credit cards have replaced fraud-ridden magstripe credit cards
  • Facebook didn’t create Snapchat “stories” – but they sure copied them, and now have over double Snapchat’s stories per day (as of July 2018)
  • Pandora’s original CEO pooh-poohed Spotify and underestimated their competition
  • Apple’s Music offering has made a comeback
  • Ireland’s potato famine led to… probably lots of things, including immigration and maybe crop diversification and crop management changes. Plus that UK-Ireland political hot potato.

Failure leads to success. (And vice versa.) Life goes on for us like a cruise ship sailing calm seas or stormy seas.

Human behavior and civilization’s seasons are pretty cyclical. War/poverty -> peace/greatness -> war/poverty -> peace/greatness.

We’re a part of nature, as much as we tell ourselves that we are special, that “this time it’s different,” and we’re not merely smart ants on a cinnamon roll hurtling around a glowing easy-bake oven light in the solar system.

How can we “Bee Greater”?

Ideally, whether for ourselves individually or as a group, we can learn from failures as quickly (and compassionately) as possible and become stronger. That’s how we can “bee greater” each day. #BeeGreater

What is your idea of success? Failure? Can we have one without the other? Let me know in the comments!

-Ken Ott

ps: for more about how failure leads to success, click here for the Google Search: failure and success (or: success and failure).

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