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The upside of failure: achieving success by learning from mistakes of others (ThinkStock/ThinkStock)
The upside of failure: achieving success by learning from mistakes of others (ThinkStock/ThinkStock)

Managing Books

Sixteen reasons why people fail in their careers Add to ...

Why People Fail

By Siimon Reynolds

(Jossey-Bass, 236 pages, $29.95)

***

We seek success. But it’s often through failure that we can learn best.

“After all, success is often just a moment – a goal fulfilled, soon to be replaced with new goals. But failure is the ambitious person’s constant companion, often dogging us for months, years, or even decades before we finally reach our aim,” Australian leadership coach Siimon Reynolds writes in Why People Fail.

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“We need to understand and conquer failure if we are ever to master success.”

Believing that failure leads to success – and having failed many times himself in the early years of his career – he has brought together 16 reasons why people stumble:

Unclear purpose: The average person has no clear purpose, and that’s why Mr. Reynolds figures they end up being average. To succeed, you need to be clear about your life purpose, job purpose, and weekly purpose, in the latter case figuring out the one or two most important tasks for the next seven days.

Destructive thinking: If you constantly seize upon the negative and smother your new ideas and those of people around you, then you won’t get very far. You’ll probably damage your health and give in too easily when confronted by challenges.

Low productivity: Too many people are disorganized, without the discipline to plan and create blocks of time to accomplish the tasks before them, and also unaware of the benefits of focusing on the few activities that generate the greatest impact.

Fixed mindset: Studies by American psychologist Carol Dweck have shown advantages flow to those who don’t feel their qualities and abilities are set in stone, but instead believe they can stretch their capabilities through dedicated and consistent effort.

Weak energy: You need lots of energy to work long hours, think clearly, and remain positive. That means keeping your energy powerful with a variety of aids – sleep, diet, exercise, sunlight, music, and positive self-talk.

Asking the wrong questions: Mr. Reynolds argues the most important force sculpting your life is the quality of questions you ask yourself. He suggests: What are my values? What would I do if I knew I couldn’t fail? How could I make 10 times more money? Should I even be involved in what I am currently doing? Another biggie, when facing a major decision: What could go wrong?

Poor presentation skills: Great presenters get ahead because their smooth presentations make them look smarter than they may actually be. “The packaging becomes the reality,” he notes.

Mistaking IQ for EQ: If you think high IQ is the sole determinant of success, you’re misguided. As American author Daniel Goleman has explained in his works, emotional intelligence is twice as likely as IQ to indicate success later in life.

Poor self-image: You need a healthy self-image because it determines which actions you will take and how you will feel every day. Both will help to determine your success.

Not enough thinking: An obsession with doing, doing, doing will ultimately do you in. Instead, you must think, think, think. Ideas, Mr. Reynolds says, are golden, but as a society we are suffering from a shortage of thinking time.

No daily rituals: Build time into your day for important habits, such as reading about your industry, fitness, improving your social life, and visualizing your goals. Try his happiness ritual as well: Take time to list all the good things in your life.

Stress: Stress kills your dreams, your happiness, your performance, and shortens your lifespan. Try some stress relievers, from deep breathing to getting into the sunshine. Write lists of what you need to do and what your values are, because those flush some of the uncertainty (and some of the stress) out of your life.

Few relationships: You need help to get where you want to be. Build friendships, including an inner circle of about 10 professional and personal contacts who can give you needed support.

Lack of persistence: One of the most crucial reasons people fail is that they give up too soon.

Money obsession: Building your life around the accumulation of money will lead to misery rather than happiness. Build your life around relationships, community, and serving others.

Not focusing on strengths: Spend your day exercising your strengths rather than worrying about shoring up your weaknesses.

This is a lot to take in, and the book is jammed with practical tips for dealing with each of the barriers to success. And acting on all this advice would leave very little time to actually get your work done.

Still, Mr. Reynolds has identified some danger points in our careers, and offers solid ideas to increase your chances of success, in a clear, engaging way.

POSTSCRIPT

In The Business of Being the Best (Jossey-Bass, 189 pages, $30.95), sports agent Molly Fletcher draws on her time with some legendary athletic figures to offer advice on success.

Sales trainers Michael Bosworth and Ben Zoldan explain how to sell through emotional connection in What Great Salespeople Do (McGraw-Hill, 237 pages, $34.95).

Consultants Suzanne Harrison and Patrick Sullivan show how leading companies leverage their intellectual property in Edison in the Boardroom Revisited (John Wiley, 255 pages, $59.95).

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