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The Real Cause of Failure is Insufficient Data

Updated on September 12, 2016
TessSchlesinger profile image

Tessa Schlesinger developed an interest in human behaviour and ethics while studying anthropology at the University of South Africa in 1975.

How not knowing the basics in life made me fail every single time!

You could say I’ve been a failure all my life. Nothing ever worked. Nothing ever played out the way I wished it, and nothing I did ever worked for me the way it worked for others. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why I couldn't get things right and eventually realized that while on the surface, it looked as if I was doing much the same as others, in reality, I wasn't. Three very simple words summed up my continuous failure: I didn't have sufficient information to apply my skill in the right places at the right time in the right way.

There were gaps in my knowledge that led to that continual failure. I may, for instance, have known how to write a good article, but I certainly didn't know where to sell them. In fact, I didn't know how to sell them. And while I may have been an excellent worker in many of my jobs, I didn't realize that making friends at the office was part of the job. Sometimes what I didn't know appeared to be obvious in retrospect, but at the time, I simply didn't know.

One often hears older people saying, "If I knew then what I know now, things would have been very different," and that is true.

Goals are achieved as a result of many different aspects working together, and a lack of knowledge and skill in one or two areas are all that is required for a goal not to be reached.

Every talent and skill needs to be developed to a high level.
Every talent and skill needs to be developed to a high level. | Source

The six reasons for failure

There are six reasons for failure. In order to succeed, you need all six of them. Regardless of how positive you are, you will not succeed if you don't have these six mastered.

They are:

  1. Basing your goal or business on the wrong information.
  2. Not being sufficiently skilled.
  3. Not having enough information.
  4. Bad Luck. An element of luck is needed in all endeavors. (There was a study decades ago that showed that the more people one knew, the luckier one became.)
  5. Not having the right contacts and/or not knowing a sufficient number of people.
  6. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Reasons for failure

Insufficient skill
Not knowing the right people
In the wrong place at the wrong time
Not having enough data knowledge
Not lucky
Basing decisions on erroneous info

Attempting success with the wrong information.

One constant theme ran through much of what I read during my youth – if you worked hard, you could move up the rung and eventually become the CEO. What nobody told me was that this didn’t apply to secretaries.

Quite clearly I had the wrong information, and though I could type as perfectly and as quickly as I liked, I was not going to become the CEO. This is an extreme example of incorrect information affecting outcomes.

Other examples might be trying to sell a product not wanted in the market place (selling snow to Eskimos), believing urban legend without checking the facts (all it takes is hard work), or believing that it's possible to have a world class act without a world class talent.

Many of the things we believe are the result of being told something so often by so many people that we do not doubt their veracity. Repetition, however, does not make something factual.

Having accurate information in all aspects is vital to reaching goals.

Russel Baker quote on how most information we get from others is incomplete or just plain wrong.
Russel Baker quote on how most information we get from others is incomplete or just plain wrong.

Not being sufficiently skilled or talented

In a world where we are constantly told that we can do anything we want provided we believe or are positive, it comes as a surprise to learn that we might need talent or have an exceptional level of skill.

For many years during the 70s, it was said that to get ahead, one must be 'in computers.' What exactly 'in computers' meant is anyone's guess. Did it mean learning to write software programs? Did it mean operating a word processor? Did it mean fixing up the hardware or connecting a network? The people who said these things didn't know enough about the topic to have any valid opinion. So many people learnt how to do word processing in the erroneous belief that they were 'in computers' and they would now become successful.

Obtaining a doctorate in computer science is a level of skill and knowledge not on the same level as learning to use a word processor (MS Word).

Winston Churchill. Never, never, never give up.
Winston Churchill. Never, never, never give up.

Insufficient information

Sometimes one has sufficient talent and/or skill, but the job or goal requires more than the talent or skill You may need to know where and how those talents or skills can be applied, plus relocate geographically.

Obvious as it may seem, learning to become a petroleum engineer in a world which is only using solar energy won't work very well. So it's necessary not only to have the skill, but to know where and how that skill is used. It's also necessary to know if that particular talent or skill is over-subscribed.

Perhaps wanting to become an actress in Los Angeles is not sufficient information to succeed. Perhaps more information is needed. For instance, how does one get a job or how does one get noticed, or how does one get a particular role? Or what other accompanying skills would increase one's ability to be successful?

Did you believe Dr. Wayne Dyer when he wrote that his reason for his success was synchronicity? He made many millions telling people that. However, that is not the true story.

What he omitted to say was that he bought up the entire first edition of his first book in order to get onto the New York Times bestselling list, and that he had the funds to do so.

So anyone trying to write bestsellers believing that being a good writer was all that was required, would be sorely disappointed. Wayne Dyer manipulated the market place in a very clever way. It had nothing to do with synchronicity, 'hard work,' or 'believing.'

Quite often when we hear success stories about others, we don't hear the entire story. Quite a few steps that led to their success have been omitted. These steps are generally the ones that cannot easily be duplicated by others.

When we fail, we need to find the information we didn't know...

Finding out what it is we don't know can be difficult. How do we know what we don't know? Reading books, attending college courses, joining forums in which the topic is discussed are all helpful.

Asking friends (or professionals in your circle) for information is not likely to elicit what is needed. That's because friends are unlikely to know and professionals will guard their secrets.

Angela Jolie and luck

The right place at the right time.

Being in the right place at the right time means that we can take advantage of a particular opportunity. That is just plain luck or the birth lottery.

When and where we are born make a difference to whether we succeed or fail. We have no control over this. If we are born in the heart of the Congo to a mother who is HIV positive and who lives in a small village with no access to a doctor, drugs, or schooling, nothing is certain.

If we were born in the middle of the 20th century in the USA, there was a good chance of being prosperous. There were many manufacturing jobs, plus rich people and corporations were taxed sufficiently highly to enable government to provide excellent training for those who needed it.

If, on the other hand, we were born in the late part of the 20th century, we were probably stuck with massive student debt and no jobs.

We might have been born to super good-looking parents in Hollywood, inherited their looks and their talent, and had a pretty clear career path just as a result of that.

We might have been born with some dysfunctionality due to a drug given to our mother or father.

We might have inherited a trait to calculate at super fast speed.

Or we might have been born with to a 6’7” father and subsequently we had the potential to become a baseball star.

Before we can begin to determine what our possibilities are, we need to take a good, hard, long look at our birth lottery.

Sometimes we can change various aspects of it; sometimes we can’t. We have to work with what we have and where we are.

Accurate self-knowledge is vitally important when we seek to achieve something. So one of the first things we need to do is understand what we have and what we don’t have.

Being in the right place at the right time is a major part of success. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time is responsible for failure.
Being in the right place at the right time is a major part of success. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time is responsible for failure.

The right contacts or the wrong people

Our greatest success in life will come with the help of other people. So will our greatest challenges. It's virtually impossible to achieve anything on our own. We need other people to help us build a product, find parts for our product, supply us with a piece of data we don't have, and/or connect us with people who will fund us, In every area of our existence, other people play a part. Sometimes we simply need to work with others in order to achieve something because it is not a one man job.

Sometimes we are lucky in that we are born into a household where our parents have lovely friends, and lovely friends draw more lovely friends. Other times, we are born into crime infested inner cities and it’s not easy to know who to trust. In between those two extremes, there are many variables.

Regardless of what we wish to do, it is doubtful that we will get there without the support, input, and/or assistance of others. So a very big part of achieving anything is learning how to connect to those who will help us and avoiding those who would damage us.

This, however, is not so much about people skills (making people feel good) as it is about recognizing those who share our values and goals.

The role of luck in success

Anyone who tells you that their success is due solely to their hard work is either not being honest or is not particularly insightful. A high degree of our success comes from lucky opportunities and more than one failure was simply the result of bad luck.

Sometimes there is a lot of competition for a job - too much, in fact. So we go drown our sorrows in a pub and find ourselves sitting next to the very guy who who can help us get to where we want to go.

Some thirty five years ago I read a book about the richest people in the world (late 19th century up to mid 20th century). Two comments stood out for me. The first is that each and every one of them said that they had simply being lucky to be at the right place at the right time and the second was that they would have been rich anyway, but breaking the law had made them even richer. Makes you think, doesn't it?

Angela Jolie recently spoke about refugees and she mentioned that she had no idea why a girl with the same degree of talent as hers, the same hard work, the same face and figure, etc. was sitting in a refugee camp with no potential for success, while she lived a good life.

Sometimes we fail, not because we did anything wrong, but simply because the right opportunity (luck) did not present itself.

There is a correlation between the number of people we know and the amount of luck we have. So in order to improve our luck, we need to know many people (who like us and approve of us). That's not always easy...

Each one of these reasons comes down to insufficient information

Steps to avoid failure

So what is it we need to know in order to negotiate our world in a way that makes us successful?

  • We need to have enough skills which are sufficiently highly developed to always have a market for them. We need to be willing to update our skills and knowledge constantly.
  • We need to read a lot in order to constantly find up to date information. It is vital to be a fast, good reader. We live in the information age, and information is the key to ‘knowing’ and finding the information that will enable us to get where we want to go. This also makes it less likely that we will have gaps in our knowledge.
  • We are all products of our environments. For the most part, we can only get as far as our environment allows us to. If we live in a country which doesn't have a rocket ship program, and we want to be an astronaut, our goals will probably not be achieved.
  • We need to know where to find people who can help us achieve what we need to achieve and develop skills avoiding people who damage us. We need to be part of a community that we respect and where we are respected.
  • We need to know the laws of our country and town in order to be aware of what we can do and what we can’t do.

Poll: Why you think you failed

Why do you think you failed (think of a situation)

See results

Real reasons for failure

We can have the most pleasant personality, be completely positive, and have high confidence in what we want to achieve. However if we have gaps in our knowledge or skills, then it’s likely that the path to success will not be achieved. We need to make sure that we understand every step of the way and have the skills to negotiate that path.

© 2016 Tessa Schlesinger


Submit a Comment

  • Trudy Grossman profile image

    Waltraud Grossmann 

    2 years ago from Stony Plain, Alberta, Canada

    I can think of incidences where all 6 of these failure factors influenced my successes or lack of successes in life. Thank you Tessa for writing such a well timed, excellent article.

  • letstalkabouteduc profile image

    McKenna Meyers 

    2 years ago from Bend, OR

    This is thought-provoking. Looking back on my life, I certainly see that a lack of "people skills" have held me back. I was never good at that socializing that's so important at work. I thought if I just worked hard I'd get noticed--WRONG! Those soft skills really make a huge difference in who gets ahead and who gets left behind. Great job!


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