Failure and success

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At Teach First we have started the leaders’ Cock Up Club.

Admission criteria for this club are simple. You have to be a leader that is prepared to recount to our aspiring young leaders your greatest cock up. This is a self selecting club. Some grand leaders have never made a mistake in their lives. The rest of us are honest. Cock ups have ranged from affairs to building the WobblyBridge. Both are fully fledged members of the club. These events give an insight into what different organisations and careers are really like, behind the PR blurb of the recruiters.

As the leaders have recounted their disasters, it has become clear that failure is essential to success. We learn from our disasters more than we learn from our triumphs. I developed a healthy appreciation of cash flow when I ran out of cash inNorthern Afghanistan: I had to sell my blood to raise money to get out. Getting sued for $12 billion was also instructive, even though my share was only $10 million. I would have had to sell a lot of blood if we had lost.

The earlier the disaster, the better. It is easier to fail and start again when you are 24 than when you are 54. Those who fail early develop deep resilience which serves them well later on. People who enjoy a gilded career until forty and then hit turbulence have brittle confidence: under pressure they break and set up their organic pig farm in North Wales.

The Cock Up Club is cathartic for its speakers and members. We all need to be able to handle disaster and failure, remembering Kipling’s injunction:

“If you can meet with triumph and disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same…”

And if you want to join, let me know.


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