Can Failure REALLY Improve the Brain

Can Failure REALLY improve the brain?

We could also title this article “Failure Improves the Brain, Revisited.” It is one Candeo\‘s most popular podcasts. Candeo co=founder Mark Kastleman created this one several years ago, and I never get tired of hearing it. Still, for some reason, I questioned that idea the other day.

It is certainly a clever title. From a marketing standpoint it’s VERY catchy. It sure caught my attention when I first heard it. But can this hypothesis really be a possiblity? Does Failure REALLY improve the brain?

I don’t know if any of you are on the popular site LinkedIn or not, but I am, and I a couple of days ago, I received an email from them, that maybe some of you saw in your own email inbox with the following message: “Vinny, was that a big mistake – or sheer genius?” Can I just share a few of the messages that followed:

Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways said “The night I spent in jail showed me why mistakes [failure?] inspire the best ideas.”

Hiroshi Mikitani, CEO, Rakuten Inc. “I lost millions in a failed acquisition because I didn’t understand one basic fact.” (Which he learned, and it changed his life.)

Just seeing these and other stories I had heard over the years was a powerful reminder of just how true and inspiring the idea of failure having the power to improve our brain and our lives really was. So I revisited some of my favorite “failure to success” stories today to remind myself how important this concept is to embrace, for all of us.

Before Henry Ford founded Ford Motor Co. he had already failed at 5 businesses, and found himself broke, the same amount of times, before finding incredible success with his automobile empire.

One you may not be familiar with is Akio Morita, who failed miserably with his very first product that was a rice cooker that only burned the rice, but didn’t cook it. I think he sold about 100 pieces of inventory. What a huge failure. I suppose he felt like walking away, but he didn’t. His company, SONY, got past this initial product failure and went on to become a multi-billion dollar company.

Is there anybody who hasn’t heard of the greatest basketball player of all time: Michael Jordan? Maybe he said it best: “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I HAVE FAILED over and over and over again in my life. And THAT is why I SUCCEED.”

Do we all know who J.K. Rowling is? Yeah. Her: with all of those Harry Potter books and movies. It took only five years for her to become one of the richest women in the world. But her story deserves a little more attention and embellishment.

After she graduated from college, she considered herself a complete failure. Her marriage failed, didn’t have a job, and was trying to care for her child and living completely on welfare. Her financial picture was so bad she said that she was as “poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless.” She said that her perceived “FAILURES” proved to be the most liberating experience of her life and allowed her to focus on her dream: writing. During this same time period she would be offered a clinical diagnosis of depression and she actually seriously considered suicide. It was during this exact time that she was inspired to add the characters that would become known as “Dementors,” which she added to her third book.

When she finished her first manuscript, having used an old manual typewriter, she submitted it to a publisher. Twelve different publishing houses rejected the book, and it wasn’t until another publisher’s 8 year old daughter read the first chapter, and demanded more chapters, that this publisher agreed to print the book. Her advisor told her to make sure she had a regular job, as children’s books didn’t make their authors very much money.

Today, the Harry Potter series has become the biggest selling book series in history, and the movies, likewise, have become the top grossing movie series of all time. J.K. Rowling is, today, one of the top 1,000 wealthiest people in the world.

I don’t know the part of the brain that helps us convert tragedy into triumph, or failure into amazing success, but I know it happens. I have felt like giving up many times in my life, especially when I was right smack dab in the middle of failure. As I have said many times, our failures/slips/relapses can be miracles in disguise, if I’ll take the time to review them, look for the weakness, and strengthen it. Then, add to this the mantra found in Og Mandino’s amazing “Greatest Salesman in the World,” “I will persist until I succeed,” and we simply cannot fail.

I’m reminded of one of the most oft quoted poems of all time that I rarely, if ever, hear used in the forums or in podcasts:

Don’t Quit
~Edgar Guest

When Things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you\‘re trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and debts are high,
And you want to Smile but have to sigh.
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must, but don\‘t you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As everyone of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about,
When he might have won if he\‘d stuck it out,
Don\‘t give up though the pace seems slow,
You might succeed with another blow.

Often the struggler has given up,
When he might captured the victor\‘s cup.
And he learned too late, when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown,

Success is failure turned inside out,
The silver tint of clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems afar,
So stick to the fight when you\‘re hardest hit,
It\‘s when things seem worst that you mustn\‘t quit.

Who’s to say that today isn’t the last time you will yield to your unwanted behaviors? If we can learn from choices, be persistent and consistent in our practice and recovery efforts, we will, like so many others, learn that failure can actually improve, not just our brains, but also our entire lives, and the lives of those around us.

Does failure REALLY improve the brain? If we’ll let it, it can.