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it comes to learning from failure. “When people fail, they tend to view it in a very personal way. But you need to separate the self-deprecation to reach the bigger lessons,” he said in an interview with Convene. “At a certain point, you have to stop the rumination and say, ‘What are the lessons I can carry forward?’ As I reflect on my own career, I learn more from my worst mistakes than I would ever learn from my greatest triumphs.”


THE F-WORD The crux of any failure discussion should not be the failure itself, but the analysis of the failure, said Edward Burger, a professor of mathemat- ics at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. Burger co-authored the recently published book The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking, which fea- tures a chapter on failure. He believes so strongly in the positive lessons of failure that 5 percent of his students’ grade is based on the “quality” of their failure. “Failing is not a point of destina- tion,” he told Convene. “It’s an intermediate step


that allows you to get somewhere else.” That is not a new concept, of course. Failure


analysis is an important discipline within the elec- tronics, manufacturing, engineering, and aviation industries. It contributes to the development of new products and to the improved performance and safety of existing products, and has led to essential changes in airline safety. Each year, thou- sands of material and electrical engineers gather for conferences dedicated to failure, including the International Symposium for Testing and Failure Analysis, where participants share the results of microelectronics failures. Although such data-driven conferences are


highly technical, the basic principles — stress testing something until it fails, determining how to avoid that failure in the future, and then presenting the findings to an audience of peers — can be replicated in any industry and any setting, Burger said. “Failure presents a very concrete opportunity to ask, ‘Why did this not work?’” he said. “The point is not, ‘Hooray! You failed!’ It’s,


Edward Burger


PCMA.ORG


FEBRUARY 2013 PCMA CONVENE


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