Fail Forward

I received an invitation in the mail from Disneyland a few months back when they were about to open, or should I say reopen, a new area of their California Adventure theme park.

Dear Craig,
As one of our most devoted fans, you and up to seven guests are invited to a special preview of the reimagined Disney California Adventure® park on Saturday or Sunday, before its official grand reopening.

Do you see that word “reimagined?” That’s Disney speak for “We’re giving this another shot...We may have been wrong on a few things before...We spent a little time rethinking our direction.” I like the language. I like the perspective. They went from “Imagineers” to “Re-Imagineers” and the only difference was hindsight. So, in looking back, I was reminded of a few reasons why failure is so important to the leader. Here are my top 3.


1. We Can Begin Again More Intelligently

Learn from the past, don’t live in it. It’s ok to look back and see how you mismanaged the budget or said the wrong thing at the wrong time to a co-worker or friend. We usually look at failure as the end to something but if you can make a shift and look at failure from a new perspective you will notice that failure is actually the beginning of something. Something, new, fresh, rich and powerful. Failure allows each of us the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.


2. We Know What Not To Do

I can recall a staff member several years ago who wanted to run an event for the age group she was directing. At the end of the day she lost over $5000.00 on the event. She thought she was going to loose her job. I remember the day she met with me to talk about the loss. She asked me, “Is this my last day?” I said, “No, why would you think it was your last day?” She said, “I lost $5000.00 on the event, it was a total failure.” I agreed, “Yes, it was a failure but failure doesn’t define us it teaches us. I just spent $5000.00 sending you to experience school why would I let you go now?” You see, failure helps us know what not to do the next time.


3. We Are shaped By The Experience

I love the quote by John Wooden, “I am not what I ought to be, not what I want to be, not what I am going to be, but thankful that I am not what I used to be.” You see, each encounter we have with failure shapes us, if we let it. It’s harder to point a finger at someone who struck out with a man on third when you have taken a swing at strike three in the same situation. Not only do you know what failure looks like you know what it feels like and that feeling shapes us. It’s counter intuitive and unconventional to think of failure as an investment into your character but it can be if you are open to it.

Let’s agree to not let past mistakes or failures define us. Let them mold us and shape us take us in a new, fresh and more educated direction. When failure arrives don’t ignore it learn from it. Consider the encouragement Paul gives us in 2 Corinthians 4:16. In the amplified version it says, “do not become discouraged, utterly spiritless, exhausted, and wearied out through fear. Though our outer man is progressively decaying and wasting away, yet our inner self is being progressively renewed day after day.”

Reminder: Don’t let failure define you, let it refine you instead.

How have you failed forward recently?