Off-Topic Thursday: Failure and Success

“If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.” ~ Thomas Watson Sr. (CEO of IBM)

This is great advice..and incredibly difficult advice, at least for me.

When I was growing up, most things came easily to me. If something didn’t come easy, I didn’t do it. That changed some when I went into high school and joined the marching band (drumline). That didn’t come easily at first, but I had 2 things motivating me:

  1. I really wanted to be in the band.
  2. I really didn’t want to have to take P.E. (physical education).

And so I applied myself and practiced hard. But honestly I only did it until I was “good enough”. I didn’t have to be my best. I didn’t have to live up to my potential. I just had to be able to get. To a lot of people, that looked like I was really applying myself and working hard. In a few cases I did, but for the rest of it…not really.

College changed some of that. I did have to work hard at some of my classes, but even then I found ways to make things easier and not challenge myself as much. In looking back, I see where I could have benefited so much more, and contributed so much more, if I had pushed myself to what I was capable and not just enough to get the job done.


It’s not that I was lazy or careless. I was afraid to fail. I did only as much as I needed to because at that point I still knew I could do it well. I hated band practice at times because I had to play something I wasn’t good at yet. Since I had no choice but to play it (given my two reasons above for being in the band), you can imagine how hard I practiced at home.

When I was learning to play the drum set, I did so in my garage, with the door shut (no matter how hot it was), and sometimes even with the drums muffled. If anyone was going to hear me, it wasn’t going to be until I could play well…or at least well enough.

That has been true for much of my life. But not anymore. I’ve come to understand that not living up to the potential that God has given me, not doing my best and being my best, is actually poor stewardship of what God has entrusted to me.

“To whom much is given, much more will be required.” I don’t know if I have “much” compared to others, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it is more than I asked for, more than I earned, and more than I deserved (because in every case, God granted the gift before I even could have done anything to deserve it).

That means I have to risk failure. If I don’t, then I’m not living up to the full potential that God has given me, because I’m still playing it safe. That doesn’t mean I have to do “big things”, but I do have to take risks, even in the small things. I may have to open myself up at times I don’t want to. I may have to go places I’m not comfortable going. I may have to work hard to develop or hone a skill—and I may have to do it while other people are watching.

“If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.” Take risks. Give your best. Step out to a place (literally or figuratively) where you have no choice but to trust in God. You may fail. I may fail. But so what? As Max Lucado says, “Our failures are not fatal.” However you define success and failure, step up.

Why Not…?

In his book Why Not the Best? President Jimmy carter tells this story:

I had applied for nuclear submarine program, and Admiral Rickover was interviewing me for the job… Finally he asked me a question and I thought I could redeem myself. He said, “How did you stand in your class at the Naval Academy?” … I swelled my chest with pride and answered, “Sir, I stood 59th in a class of 820!” I sat back to wait for the congratulations — which never came.
Instead the question: “Did you do your best?
I started to say, “Yes, sir,” but I remembered who this was… I finally gulped and said, “No sir, I didn’t always do my best.” He looked at me for a long time, and then turned his chair around to end the interview. He asked one final question, which I have never been able to forget — or to answer. He said, “Why not?

Question: Are there areas in your life where you find yourself not doing your best out of fear of failure? Talk about it in the comments below, or on our Facebook page.

Randy CraneRandy Crane is passionate about helping Christians, especially those with a Disney affinity, to discover and connect to their GOD-GIVEN PURPOSE AND VALUE, to build their lives to achieve TRUE SUCCESS AND MEANING, and to POSITIVELY IMPACT their world. For more than two decades, Randy has been leading individuals and teams into a greater joy and child-like appreciation of the world around them, equipping them to reach beyond what they have previously experienced and build a God-given identity and purpose. Ready to experience that for yourself? Tell us where to send SIX free videos all created to help answer the 3 questions you need to experience PEACE, FREEDOM, and PURPOSE!

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  • Man, this really makes me look back at most of what I do. I tend to coast once I have the momentum. I never thought of it as being a bad steward but it makes perfect sense. One of my mantra’s is ‘gratitude is an action’. I need to show my gratitude for my opportunities and talents by trying harder; trying to do my best. Thanks Rand!

    • Thanks for your feedback, Sutton! Coasting on momentum can be easier–and at times is beneficial for specific purposes. It can lead to complacency, though, and that’s almost never good.

      I love your mantra!

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