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Manage failures

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Manage failures, or the failures will damage you.

“Any experience which doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.”

                                                                                      Dostoyevsky

The most important characteristic that we need to inculcate in our children who will live in the 21st and 22nd century, is the ability to fail. All successful people built their success on the lessons learned from their failures. Great entrepreneurs and professionals in any field have done well not in spite of their failures, but because of their failures.

Amitabh Bachanji a great example who compared to many of his compatriots has done very well because he kept re-inventing himself, whenever he would fail, some failures were small, but some were very big. ABCL was one of his biggest failures, in the year 2000 at the age of 57, Amitabhji was on the verge of financial bankruptcy.

“There was a sword hanging on my head all the time. I spent many sleepless nights. One day, I got up early in the morning and went directly to Yash Chopraji and told him that I was bankrupt. I had no films. My house and a small property in New Delhi were attached. Yashji listened coolly and then offered me a role in his film Mohabatein,”

“I then started doing commercials, television and films. And I am happy to say today that I have repaid my entire debt of Rs 90 crore and am starting afresh,” Amitabh Bachchan

What is very clear, that ability to fail means that one practices being flexible and develops the ability to deal with frustration.

Matsushita Konosuke, the founder of Panasonic, who made the quote of Dostoyevsky “any experience that doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” his anchoring thought. In his life time he saw many challenges, but his ability to be flexible and tolerate frustration made him one of the greatest businessman, in Japan.

An island of excellence in India is ISRO, Indian Space Research Organization. Today ISRO stands tall among other space agencies of the world. ISRO being one among only three space agencies that have succeeded in sending a probe to Mars, other two being NASA and the erstwhile Soviet Space agency.

One of President A P J Abdul Kalam’s oft-narrated tales is the one about when then chairman Satish Dhawan had put him in charge of the first satellite launch vehicle project (SLV) 3 in 1973. The SLV-3, with the Rohini satellite, was launched in 1979, but crashed into the Bay of Bengal five minutes later.

At the press conference that followed, Kalam discovered, to his shock, that Dhawan took all the blame for the disaster, despite the SLV 3 being Kalam’s baby. A year later, the SLV-3 was launched successfully. And it was time to face the nation once again. Kalam was stunned again — because this time Dhawan gave him all the credit. Kalam today says this is one piece of education ‘which won’t come from any university.’

Kiran Karnik, Nasscom chairman 2001 to 2007, worked in ISRO during the 1970s and the 1980s.  Karnik actually likes to draw comparisons with the growth of ISRO and the development of the IT industry, graduating from heady idealism to firm processes. Karnik surprised his peers when he joined ISRO after passing out of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, in the early 1970s.

Karnik recalls how a youngster who joined ISRO the previous week could critique someone much senior to him. And there was a strictly non-hierarchical approach to most projects.

It is said that Satish Dhawan, injected unprecedented levels of transparency in the ISRO culture, a vital element to deal with failures in a sensible manner.

Resources have been a perennial problem with most Indian government organisations. ISRO has turned adversity into an advantage. Years of scavenging have made it the lowest-cost satellite launcher in the world, 35 per cent lower, on average, and in case of the Mars, only a fraction of what it cost NASA succeed.

It is evident, individuals who succeed, deal with failures by ensuring that they refrain from certain cognitive pitfalls, such as I am unlucky, I can’t do it and finally I don’t have enough resources.

Equally important is commitment towards target lines. “Raghukul reet sada challi aayi, pran jaye par vachan na jaye.” By becoming committed towards target lines, failures are feedbacks, and course correction indicators.

Another great Indian success story is Sreedharanji, who made the Delhi Metro a great success, in spite of facing numerous challenges. He said, focus on goals, not politics, and develop the conviction to do what is right. Sreedharanji, also emphasized on the importance, of picking a few good men in the team. It is better to put priority on quality than quantity. Sreedharanji, emphasized that the Leaders have to seriously follow the rules of the company to build a culture of discipline, driven by values. Punctuality is the key driver. Sreedharanji was a stickler, and he would ensure that the decisions are made and relayed on time. The biggest damage that an organization suffers is when members delay taking decisions and acting on them.

Sreedharan was accessible to anybody, and meets formally and informally with many members who may not be his direct reports to know the pulse. All the employees were handed Makaranda Bhagwadgita. Sreedharanji ensured that integrity was non-negotiable. He didn’t consider Makaranda Bhagwadgita as religious but a text that taught how to overcome challenges. He also recommended that one should maintain a to do list, and to focus on doing a few things that are critical. Often failures persist when many things are being done.

Finally be proactive, think of non-conventional ways of dealing with obstacles. In one case when a metro line that was being built from Delhi to Gurgaon, passing through an area where the owners of farm houses took to court objecting the metro line from passing thru their vicinity. Sreedharanji had the proposed metro station built of prefabricated steel else-where, as opposed to the traditional concrete structure that was put on hold till they could get the clearance from the court. As soon as the court ruled in the favor of the Delhi Metro, they installed the steel fabricated station structure, and thus were able to finish the project on time.