16 April 2013

Success: First you must fail (and often fail again)

On Monday morning, as has been my annual habit for the past 35 years or so, I watched the conclusion of the Masters golf tournament.
The Masters, one of golf’s four majors, is especially revered for Australian players as no Australian has managed to win the converted green jacket, with Greg Norman (three times runner-up) coming closest.
Queenslander, Adam Scott, had finished tied for second at the 2011 Masters and last year had the British Open within his grasp before blowing a four shot lead over the final four holes to finish second.
The British Open meltdown was a very big, very public and very high profile failure. Many golfing scribes speculated that, like his hero Greg Norman, the scars of such a loss would be too much for him to overcome if he was to win a major.
Scott had long been touted as the ‘next big thing’ in golf due to his pure ball striking ability and power. The sponsors and fans loved him because of his athletic appearance and classic good looks. A few years ago Scott had ascended as high as #3 in the world rankings but had not progressed any further due to his failure to capture one of golf’s majors, the unquestioned benchmark of a quality player.
At 32 years of age (by which age Tiger Woods had won 13 majors), it appeared that Scott might be destined to forever wear the ‘not quite good enough’ tag.
On Sunday afternoon (US time) as joint tournament leader, Scott stepped up to a long birdie putt on the final hole of regulation play. Putting had long been Scott’s downfall. Making the putt would almost certainly secure him victory. He nailed the putt and pumped his fist wildly; surely he had broken his drought and would win his first major?
Back out on the course, in the final playing group, was 2009 Master champion Angel Cabrera. As the first Argentinean to win the Masters, Cabrera was a complete contrast to Scott. As a chain smoking, overweight, long time journeyman player, Cabrera had never won a US Tour event until he won the 2007 US Open at the age of 37.
Cabrera had given up his lead earlier in the day, and now, facing the prospect of matching Scott’s birdie on the final hole, appeared to have little chance of forcing a playoff. Calmly he drilled his approach shot to within one metre of the hole and holed the putt to tie with Scott at 9 under par.
After having the title tournament within his grasp, Scott now faced a playoff. All those past failures must surely have jumped into his head as he headed back onto the course.
The first playoff hole was tied. On the second playoff hole both players had makeable birdie putts. Cabrera, closer to the hole but on a more challenging line, missed his putt by about 3cm. Scott stepped up with the knowledge that holing his putt would win him the Masters. He calmly stroked the ball into the middle of the cup to win the playoff and secure the 2013 Masters Championship.
As I watched Scott and his entourage celebrate his famous victory, I thought of my friend, Margie Warrell’s latest book, Stop Playing Safe (you may have seen Margie on Weekend Sunrise a couple of weeks ago engaging in a delightful repartee with co-host Larry Emdur as they discussed the merits of ‘tooting your horn’).
In considering the magnitude of Adam Scott’s achievement, I picked up Margie’s book and turned to one of my favourite sections (from Chapter 6: Seize opportunity from your adversity):
If you’re succeeding at everything you set out to do, you’re surely not aiming high enough. Failure is not something to be feared or avoided. It’s the lack of it you need to be careful about because one day; as you look back on your life, you’ll see that it was from your failures that you grew the most, and gained the most wisdom, and that they provided the stepping stones to your success (even of you didn’t feel that way at the time) and to all the other challenges that came along after them. Defeat is not the worst of failures. The worst failure is not to have tried. So if you want to succeed more, double your failure rate.
If you’re not missing a few shots here and there on a regular basis then consider that it’s not because you’re playing smart, but because you’re playing safe. One day when you look back on your life you’ll see what it’s how you’ve coped with your failures, not the failures themselves (my bold), that determined the shape of your life and the state of the heart.
(Stop Playing Safe by Margie Warrell, Wiley, 2013, pages 175 & 176)
I know golf is only a game but Adam Scott proved how much he had coped with, and learned from, those previous failures; especially that 2012 British Open loss, a failure that may have sunk a lesser person.
I can only imagine how much sweeter his Masters victory must have been for him knowing the despair and soul searching that surely must have come from that  loss the previous year.
When I look back at the many public failures I have had in my life (as a recruiter, as a leader, as a business owner, as a father and as a husband, to name just a few), I now see that how I coped with, and learned from, those failures created the seeds of my future success.
Congratulations Adam Scott - your failures have truly been the making of you and your Masters success.


  1. Great article and certainly got me thinking. For someone who is reasonably risk adverse, it makes you think that being risk adverse is risky in itself.

  2. Yes, I agree, Jamie. There is a lot of risk in playing (what appears to be) safe, especially in such a fast moving, ever changing world.