From setback to success admin September 8, 2013

From setback to success


Do-do happens and it is part of the journey. Sometimes it feels like really deep do-do. But we saw last week that failure does not mean forever, failure is not final.

So, how do you turn setbacks into success? If do-do happens to you, what exactly should you do-do?

J.K. Rowling’s manuscript for Harry Potter was rejected by 15 publishers. That was a setback.

When Jimmy Carter was not re-elected after his first term as President of the United States, he described it as being fired by the American public. That was a setback.

When Steve Jobs was fired by Apple, the company he had created, he was so devastated friends and colleagues were worried he may commit suicide. That was a setback.


Great! Use the setbacks!

But setbacks are often what enables you to launch to the next level with even greater strength and success.

According to Joseph Campbell, the American mythologist, all of the heroes of the world’s cultures follow a similar path,  a path which includes many setbacks. These are both fuel and learning episodes which ultimately lead to the hero’s success.

Crucially, they would not be successful had they not had the setbacks.


Ok, but how?

In “Firing Back: How great leaders rebound after career disasters”, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld of Yale and Andrew Ward of the University of Georgia, describe five steps for fighting back. They are:

  1. Don’t give in. Fight it, choosing the right battles to fight.
  2. Don’t retreat into your cave of grief. Use the support of others to help you.
  3. Don’t blame yourself. Put things into context, keep your self-esteem.
  4. Show your capability. Prove you are good.
  5. Set yourself a mission that will drive you.

I’ll add one of my own: persist. As Jack Dempsey says, “Champions get up when they can’t”.


A setback just means you haven’t succeeded yet.

Want more stories of failure? Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper for “a lack of ideas”; Einstein’s Ph.D. thesis on special relativity was rejected twice, he submitted another paper on a different topic, which was also rejected, he changed one word and re-submitted it and it was accepted; Sony’s first product was a rice cooker which sold less than 100 units.

There are thousands of these stories. And common to all is how they never took the failure as final. It was always simply a learning episode that enabled their ultimate success.


From setback to success

J.K. Rowling became the first ever person to become a billionaire from writing books. That was setback to success.

Jimmy Carter responded from his “firing” with efforts that won him a Nobel Prize in 2002. That was setback to success.

Steve Jobs took some time off, travelled around Europe, went cycling and camping under the stars. He set up NeXT, sold it to Apple in 1996 and became their CEO again in 1997, when it was going through difficult times. He introduced the iMac, the iPod and the iPhone. By 2012, Apple became the most highly capitalised company in the world. That was setback to success. iSuccess.


Negotiation setback to success

So if your negotiation fails? Don’t worry, it’s what happens. Failure isn’t final. Learn. The negotiation is never over.

One of the greatest negotiations ever was the Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland. George Mitchell, the U.S. envoy who led the process, described it as “700 days of failure and one day of success”.

But it was the one day that mattered.