Michael Jordan was cut from his high-school varsity basketball team.
Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor who said he "lacked imagination."
It took Thomas Edison 1,000 tries before he invented the light bulb.
Obviously each of these men and many others became successful despite many failures and rejections. Last week the Wall Street Journal shared a growing psychological assessment that they share a common trait that allows them to achieve greatness while others give up. It's a trait that fits perfectly with The Challenge Dividend concept.
In the 1970s Stanford psychologist Albert Bandura described a trait called "self-efficacy." Self-efficacy can be defined as "the unshakable belief some people have that they have what it takes to succeed." Today, self-efficacy is gaining acceptance across fields such as education, health care, management, and sports. Unlike self-esteem, which is merely a feeling of self-worth, self-efficacy is a judgment that one has specific capabilities that will lead to success.
Interestingly, a key part of developing self-efficacy is failure itself. According to Prof. Bandura, "People need to learn how to manage failure so it's informational and not demoralizing." They see failure as part of the process to success, and some of their finest quotes confirm this perspective:
- "I've failed over and over again in my life. That's why I succeeded." - Michael Jordan
- "I didn't fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps." - Thomas Edison
- "Whether you think that you can or you can't, you're usually right." - Henry Ford
For me personally, the idea of self-efficacy makes a lot of sense. Probably my favorite story of failure is the first brand I launched at Procter & Gamble, a "soap" for fruits and vegetables called Fit Fruit & Vegetable Wash. We thought we had a winner, worked our butts off to get it to market, and it promptly failed. Fit became the joke of the company and many people quietly denied that they ever worked on it. But I took it as a challenge to learn and get new products right the next time. I became obsessed with tracking other new products and created a massive file of case studies and key learnings.
Two years later I had the chance to take on two more new product launches, Mr. Clean AutoDry Car Wash and Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Because of my failure on fit, I was able to succeed with Mr. Clean. We turned the business around and the rest is history.
I recently learned that P&G CEO A.G. Lafley called Fit the "#1 worst innovation in P&G history" in his new book. I enjoy telling people that I worked on a product with this dubious distinction, as it helps me remember that failure (challenge) can lead to success.
(Funny side note, last night I had a dream that I was working for P&G again and put on a team that was in charge of trying to re-launch Fit. They had lost all of the old data and I was spouting off the ten reasons why we should not re-launch it.)