5 Failure Hacks


You’ve messed up, you’ve made a mistake, and you have failed.  So now what?  Are there things that you can do to hack failure and get back on track?

The following failure hacks are things that successful people do when everything goes wrong.

If you apply these hacks you’ll be able to get through a failure faster and come out smarter on the other side.

Remember the goal is not to avoid failure.  The real goal is to learn and to learn fast and learn what you need to learn so that you can be successful.

Here are Five Failure Hacks:

  1. Stop
  2. Be curious
  3. Fail fast
  4. Learn fast
  5. Try again

Hack #1:   Stop = Avoid denial – Be accountable

The most common emotional response to failure is denial.  We simple don’t accept that something is wrong. Frankly, most of time we find comfort in our denial. We can rationalize that life is just difficult and other people seem to have all of the luck.  There are many reasons that we create to keep us comfortable in denial.

Why do we live in denial?   In Psychology today, Carl Alasko Ph.D. said it this way.

“Denying those facts allows you to keep moving rather than stopping and facing the painful restrictions and demands of reality.”

Some denial can be life threating.  Unhealthy behavior, such as addiction, risk-taking, or overeating are threats to your body.  Other threats such as and abusive relationship, a job that exploits you, a boss that torments you are mentally threating.

Unfortunately, most people won’t recognize the harmful situation of denial until they are deeply mired in the tar of failure.  And even then, if they do recognize the full situation, they can still avoid the pain and the truth by not fully accepting their failure. 

The effects of denial are vividly apparent when persons are lost in the wilderness.  The mantra for overcoming the effects of denial in a survival situation are revealed in this acronym.  STOP.

‘S’- This is for stop. Take a deep breath and sit down. The first step is to simply acknowledge, that you are lost. No more denial.  This act will kick in the rational part of the mind. 

‘T’- This is for think. Don’t do anything at all until you assess your situation.

‘O’- This is for observe. This should be done in conjunction with the thinking stage. What do you see around you that could help? What’s the terrain like? How about the weather?

‘P’- This is for plan — survival plan. Once you’ve observed the terrain, thought about all the possible scenarios, and generally accepted your situation, it’s time for the plan. First take care of immediate issues like injuries, a storm on the horizon, etc.

Once you recognize the effects of denial then you need to be accountable for the choices you made that placed you a position where denial became your security blanket.

According to Linda Galindo, a consultant specializing in individual and leadership accountability and author of the 85% Solution:

“If your mind-set is that you’re at least 85% responsible for your success—and that just 15% depends on the way the wind blows—you’ll likely be successful.  If you blame your problems and failures—big or small, personal or professional—on other people, circumstances beyond your control, or just plain bad luck, you may be doomed to fail.”

Galindo then outlines a three-step process to be accountable:

1.  Responsibility

Responsibility is not something you do—it’s a way of thinking and being.

2. Self-empowerment

By empowering yourself, you take the actions—and the risks—to achieve a result and get what you want.

3. Personal accountability

Unlike responsibility (the “before”) and self-empowerment (the “during”), personal accountability is the “after”. It’s a willingness to answer for the outcomes of your choices, actions, and behaviors.

We shouldn’t confuse moving forward with moving in the right direction.  The most liberating moment in your life is when you stop blaming, stop the denial and become accountable for your life and more importantly how you have set up your life for better things and success.  If you can realize the full measure of your accountability for your life, then you have the power to make a change.


Hack #2:  Be curious = Ask why – Seek pattern recognition – Embrace new behaviors

According to Roger S. Gil a mental health clinician that specializes in marriage and family therapy:

“The key to recognize and address denial is to pay attention to recurring negative themes. Recurring negative themes (e.g. a series of harmful relationships, negative side effects related to an addictive behavior, etc.) are good red flags for denial. Chances are that we are either creating an environment that is conducive to the negative outcome we don’t want or fooling ourselves into thinking that we have control over a situation that we really are helpless to affect. If you see a recurring theme, know that you’re probably denying a truth.”

Psychiatrist and addiction expert Judson Brewer has conducted research in the area of behavior sciences and proposes that curiosity is a key factor in changing your behavior.

His research suggests that “instead of fighting our brains, or trying to force ourselves to pay attention, we instead tapped into this natural, reward-based learning process? What if instead we just got really curious about what was happening in our momentary experience? As we learn to see more and more clearly the results of our actions, we let go of old habits and form new ones.

 Mindfulness is just about being really interested in getting close and personal with what’s actually happening in our bodies and minds from moment to moment. This willingness to turn toward our experience rather than trying to make unpleasant cravings go away as quickly as possible. And this willingness to turn toward our experience is supported by curiosity, which is naturally rewarding.”

Hack #3:  Fail fast- when you try new things try the hard part first 

Astro Teller is an entrepreneur, inventor, and author.  He worked as the “Captain of Moonshots” for X -formerly called Google X.

He reveals the secret of their success.  “We spend most of our time breaking things and trying to prove that we’re wrong. That’s it, that’s the secret. Run at all the hardest parts of the problem first. The only way to get people to work on big, risky things — audacious ideas — and have them run at all the hardest parts of the problem first, [and you do this by making] that the path of least resistance for them.” And Google X does this by making it safe to fail.

According to Teller: “Teams kill their ideas as soon as the evidence is on the table because they’re rewarded for it. They get applause from their peers. Hugs and high fives from their manager, me in particular. They get promoted for it. We have bonused every single person on teams that ended their projects”

This supports the observations of Tim Harford the author of Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure, “Google fails a lot, but they learn fast.  Google values failure in the following ways:

1) Discerning why you failed and applying that to future projects; and

2) Speed to fail fast and early before investing more than necessary or damaging your brand.

 Seth Godin is an author, entrepreneur, and public speaker and he put it this way:  “If you accept the fact that the person who fails the most wins you can then accept that the act of putting good effort into something that fails is actually a key part of your job.”

Hack #4:  Learn Fast = Be an active learner

There are three key attributes of how successful people learn from their failures.

Frist, successful people have learned when to pivot from their failures.  If you can’t do that, then you are stuck in a loop and you will fail again. They know when to give up and when to go forward. They know how to properly interpret a failure based upon what they know and have learned about themselves or their pursuit in life, and they make changes based upon new understandings. See my blog “Should you give up” and the example of Richard Branson.

Second, they know what to learn to be successful. If you can evaluate and process a failure event you can see what you lacked in terms of knowledge, skills or attitudes that contributed to your failure.  Once you realize this, you know what you need to do to learn to avoid future failures.

Lastly, successful people know how they learn best. The higher the stakes the sharper our mind becomes.  Successful people know how to process information and they know how their mind works best in learning mode.  They also have awareness of the patterns within systems, people and within themselves. They construct targeted – on the fly – learning strategies for success.  In other words they are active learners and they don’t waste time learning things that don’t help them overcome a failure.

You can become an active learner by following these steps.


  • Recognize your thinking processes in terms of the kind of learner you are. Are you more visual or auditory or tactical learner?
  • Develop a self-regulation system: plan how to proceed with a learning task, monitoring your performance on an ongoing basis, and evaluating your learning efficiency.
  • Understand the similarity between the current learning task and previous ones, know the strategies required for successful learning, and anticipate success as a result of knowing how to learn.
  • Articulate how you learn best. Be aware of the strategies that led you to success outcomes and recognize the value of using them again.


Hack #5:  Try Again:  Find the courage and value of failure

John C. Maxwell is a leadership expert and author.  In his book Failing Forward he outlines numerous examples that show how perceiving and responding to failure determines whether you will be an average or an achieving person.

Maxwell’s Failing Forward is a 15-step method to achieving success through and with failure. I won’t go over all 15 steps here but here are a few steps.

 Step #2.  Learn a new definition of failure.  Here Maxwell is trying to help us understand that failure is a good and powerful learning mechanism.

Step #4. Take action and remove fear.  One of the biggest problems is the stunning effect failure can have upon us. We should not wallow in failure too long. In fact the longer you take to recover, the longer it will take you to be successful.

Step #8.  Change your responses to failure by accepting responsibility. The blame game is a game that winners don’t play.


Tim Harford is an English economist and journalist.  In this book Adapt he outlines three principles for productive failure:

 Frist, Try new things.

“Expose yourself to lots of different ideas and try lots of different approaches, on the grounds that failure is common.”

Then Experiment where failure is survivable.

“Look for experimental approaches where there’s lots to learn – projects with small downsides but bigger upsides. Too often we take on projects where the cost of failure is prohibitive, and just hope for the best.”

Lastly, Recognize when you haven’t succeeded.

“This third principle is the easiest to state and the hardest to stick to: But you must understand when you’ve failed.”


Every successful person has failed. In an October 2016 article in Forbes, Kevin Kruse declared we should be “A Failure Pioneer”.  He said:  “Where does courage and determination come from, and can they be learned? Make a list of entrepreneurs you admire and who have made a difference to the world. They could be living or dead. The chances are they all have one outstanding quality in common: they are failure pioneers.”

Take FailCon founder Cass Phillipps. She helps entrepreneurs learn from their own and others’ failures. The company’s motto is “Embrace your mistakes. Build your success.” Picking yourself up off the ground after yet another setback gets tiring after a while. FailCon aims to turn failure into a process for instant learning and review. As Mauri says, ‘The take home message here: learn fast, fail cheap and remember that failure isn’t the opposite of success; it’s a stepping stone to success.”

In an interview with Hack The Entrepreneur, Seth Godin gave this advice in how to view failure.

“Failures don’t even affect me anymore. They brush off me so much easier. Things that would have wiped me out and devastated me for a day or two days or a week or a month even, don’t even bother me anymore.  It’s a part of the process. It’s a part of the process of getting good at something, of mastering something, of building a business. It’s making mistakes and dealing with the failure and knowing that that is part of your job.”

After a year of research while writing my book The Value of Failure I came to this conclusion about failure.

Failure means nothing unless you can learn from it.

Remember, any failure can shake you to the core.  How we overcome a failure is what makes the difference.  Conversely, most of us have had some level of success or positive affirmation. Knowing what each means, success and failure, not only determines your direction in life but can make you happy.   

These failure hacks will give you insight into how you can learn from your failures and push forward.  If you can learn, you can hack failure.   


Shane Lester-

Author of the new book: Hacking Failure

“This book will change everything you thought you knew about failure.”

Learn more about Shane and his blog: Learning From Your Failures



Facebook – @hackingfailure




Should You Give Up?

Should you give up when you fail at something?  Maybe!  That is really the truthful answer.


There are many types of failure in many aspects of our lives.  We may fail at relationships, academic pursuits, or in our careers and business endeavors.  I could speak to each of those areas but let me generalize a few insights that will help you learn to recognize and learn from failure.
Research has shown that that 70 percent of us fail to achieve the goals they we have set for ourselves.  This tells me that failure is inevitable.  But most of us don’t need research to tell us this.  We feel it and we have lived it.
Deciding when to give up or press on is one of the feedback mechanism that failure offers you.  Failure may inform you to make a critical change in your path that may lead to the success you have been seeking. On the other hand, failure might be indicating that you are on the wrong course and you need to pivot form your current path and go in a completely different direction.  If you don’t head this feedback you might spend year’s picking up the pieces from a cascade of failures.
Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” – Denis Waitley

If failure is such a great teacher why aren’t we learning?

Unlike a real teacher who has you in a captive setting, failure is more like a tutor that only shows up to teach you something if you ask for help and if you spend the energy to learn the lesson.
Here are four reasons why we fail:
  • We fail for reasons:
  • That are self-evident
  • That are unknown
  • That you mislabel
  • You recognize but do not take action upon


I have had rich life experiences and I have failed for all of these reasons. In retrospect, if I could fully comprehend and calculate the full measure of my failures back then, maybe I could have recognized the path forward and changed a few outcomes?

Self-evident failures

Having the wrong attitude, the wrong knowledge, and a lack of skills are self-evident attributes that are contributing factors to most failure.  Lacking one of these attributes is somewhat self-evident why you failed.  You didn’t study of the test, you didn’t prepare for the meeting, and you said the wrong thing.  All failures that you created if you are brave enough to acknowledge them.

Even though some of these failures are self-evident to the rational mind, they may not be that evident to us when we are in the middle of them and looking at failure through the prism of emotion.

Unknown reasons for failure

It is also possible that you are doing all the right things but for some reason success doesn’t flow in your direction.  At that moment and perhaps for years later why you failed can seem like a mystery.  Sadly without examination those failures can lay dormant and remain a mystery. I would submit that while some reasons will remain a mystery, many reasons for failure can be unearthed and examined to help you learn from them.
If you’re in a spiral of failure but don’t know why it is probably because you are not appreciating their value and you are not learning from them.  The good thing about a failure is that it doesn’t have an expiration date.  You can learn from them long after their initial impact.  I further propose that if you go deep enough and become accountable for your life those failures of the past will make sense to you and the mystery will be solved.

Mislabeled failures

More damaging to your soul is when failures are mislabeled.  We can call this blame.  When you think you are doing everything right, but you later find out you were wrong this can be a sobering moment.  For a multitude of bad reasons you can completely miss the point of a failure event.
Many years ago as a new product manager I was succeeding in many areas of my job, but I later came to understand I was failing in other aspects.   The general manger of my division made this comment after a group presentation:  “how can your product be successful and not sale?”  I was doing 80%of my job right but ignoring the other 20%.  At that moment I didn’t learn anything from my failure.  I didn’t dig in and learn about why my product wasn’t selling, instead I blamed my sales team for lack of sales.  My failures were both mislabeled and simultaneously recognized by me but I failed to take corrective action.

Failures that you don’t act upon

I could see the failure.  It was in mathematical terms.  My product wasn’t selling. However, the failure didn’t teach my anything because I was unwilling to learn. It is important to note that recognizing failure is only the start of gaining value from that analysis.  In my example, if I would recognized my failure I may have stopped short by saying to myself “Yeah my product is not selling and I don’t understand 20% of my job.  I’m stupid. The end.”  I think, even for the self-conscious and for the seekers of success, we often just let a failure like this have that level impact.  We deflect, we set a new goal and move on.  We don’t seek to understand if our attitude, knowledge, or skills are contributing factor to our failure.
What I should have done is recognize my failure and then created a learning strategy that would have helped me understand what is missing from my tool kit as a product manager.
If a failure is going to help you become more, become better, or become successful you need to not only recognize that you failed, but I need that experience to inform your strategy or system for becoming better.
In hindsight I should have said is:  “Wow I need to own this, I need to learn more about product marketing and software development and what it takes to keep a product healthy.  If I learn this now I’ll be in a better place in my career later and I’ll place myself in the crosshair of luck/ opportunity.”
However, my initial reaction is somewhat typical. I was not rational, but emotional and I just cracked that experience up to – wow my boss is a jerk – and tried to pick up my self-esteem.
So don’t do that!  Be smarter than me.

What should you learn from your failures?

The story arch here is that this failure was so profound and its impact so deep that it has taken me over 6 years to place that experience within a learning framework, which has helped me pivot and truly learn from that failure.  I recommend that you avoid letting a failure taint you for years as it did me.  There is a difference between learning from your failures and using what you learned to make a change. If I had a system then, like I have now, I would have known how to react, how to process that event, and how to move forward in a more positive manner.
In John C. Maxwell’s book Failing Forward, he illustrates this point by relating a story about John James Audubon, who we know now as the founder of the Audubon society.
In the early 1800’s Audubon was involved in several trading and manufacturing business that all failed.  Some of these were simply bad timing.  For example he started a trading business with England right before the war of 1812. That of course devastated his prospects.  What Audubon was good at was hunting and drawing.  In fact he used his artistry as a meager part of his income for most of his adult life before he became published.
In 1826, now at the age of 41, Audubon was able to publish his book and found great success in those endeavors.


In contrast let’s take a look at Richard Branson.   Branson is a billionaire, an entrepreneurs and viewed as an overall model for success.  But his track record shows that he fails perhaps as much as he succeeds.  Most of his Virgin product lines have failed while other have succeeded.  Branson, I submit, knew when to quit and when to stick with the right investment or business.  His failures didn’t inform him to change careers, rather they confirmed his overall direction.  He pushed forward and in most respects he is successful.


If your goal is to become a successful entrepreneur and the failures of companies on long the way fits within your system as you keep learning and perfecting your skills than you are well aligned with Branson and everything might work out for you.

If you were not well suited for business and you’re more like an Audubon, then failure should inform you that you need to change your course and do what you’re good at, which is what Audubon did and then he became a success.

In her article “Strategies for Learning from Failure” Amy C. Edmondson said “Once a failure has been detected, it’s essential to go beyond the obvious and superficial reasons for it to understand the root causes. This requires the discipline—better yet, the enthusiasm—to use sophisticated analysis to ensure that the right lessons are learned and the right remedies are employed.”

One of the keys to know if you are on the right track or if your plan is wrong is by taking this simple litmus test when failure occurs.  Is your failure today the result of a long string of bad decisions or is the failure of today isolated to the events of the day?  I think success comes to those who can interpret, categorize and segregate failures so that they don’t cripple their dreams.

No matter the type of failure, try not to fail, but if you must fail, fail the best way you can. Don’t try to avoid all risk, but set yourself up so that you can pivot from your mistakes. If failure paralyzes your momentum you need to recognize what failure is trying to teach you and then move in a purposeful direction.

The real trick is to be able to learn and learn rapidly form your failures.  If you have created a system for success (whatever that might mean to you) it is much easier to learn and pivot from a failure.

If you don’t have a system that helps you react and process a failure events you can get stuck, and in doing so, you don’t move toward anything productive.  You simply let the dark tar of failure simmer in your soul.

If failure is inevitable then success is contingent upon your perceptions, actions and recovery from a failure.  From that informed point of view you can rationally build a learning strategy to change your attitude, update your skills or knowledge.

most-interesting-man-in-the-world_I LEARN

Learn more:  Read my new book The Value of Failure.

Shane Lester is the Author of the new book: The Value of Failure

“This book will change everything you thought you knew about failure.”

Learn more about Shane and his blog: Learning From Your Failures





Can you be Unmistakable?

art of being

#hackingfailure #valueoffailure  @hackingfailure

On February 27, 2014 (my birthday) I splurged and bought a book for 3 bucks called The Art of Being Unmistakable: A Collection of Essays About Making a Dent in The Universe [Kindle Edition] By: Srinivas Rao

I heard about this book on the Glenn Beck talk radio show.  I’m not a regular to talk radio listener so it was just by chance that I heard the host talk about this book.  I decided to investigate and then I bought the book.

I have read it several times since.  It is a short book, but packed with insights and perspective that made a significant impact upon me. This book helped me see that I was going down the wrong path in my life and in my career.

This book was acted as a catalyst in the back of my mind to help me find the path to overcome some of my failures that were keeping me from what I love to do.  When I did an honest assessment of what I’m good at, it became clear to me that while I was somewhat successful at work, because of some of my skills, I was not using all of skills and I was robbing myself of joy and a sense of purpose. I discover that I should do what I’m good at and capitalize on my full skill set.  So I started writing again.


My new book, The Value of Failure, was conceived by aspiring to make what I’m trying to say unmistakable.  In fact many of the choices I made were informed by the wisdom from Rao’s book.

Here are some parallels:

The Art of Being Unmistakable was in many ways is a book about failure and what Rao learned from those failures.  His experience in the corporate world paralleled many of my experiences.  It was that message that helped me look at all of my failures, all of my strengths and I deicide to make a change. In that realm, my previous failed writing attempts became my truth in understanding my failures and informed me on my new path.

I struggled many times wondering if I should turn my book into a more formal self-help format. I wanted my message to flow organically like Rao’s book.  The idea of me preaching what I know didn’t seem authentic. I’m more unaccomplished that accomplished at this stage in my life.  I’m really at the start of my journey.

And despite the reality that I have no legitimate right to declare that I have learned from my failures and assume that others want me to share that experience, I decided to be bold and just go for it.

I also took a risk in including my writing outtakes section in my book, which is basically a peak behind the curtain of writing.  This was bold and it was yet another way to be different from other self-help books. Despite the flippant dialogue throughout my book this writing is from the heart and for me this level of exposure is uncharted territory.

I went through many many iterations around the title.  I expose this chaotic process in part two of my book.  Finally the title came as a direct result of looking at Rao’s title and trying to clearly articulate what I was trying to say.

I think the greatest complement for my book would be to hear from someone that beheld the message and they were intrigued and inspired.  And so I’m here to report that The Art of Being Unmistakable helped me to believe that my message could be unmistakable.   I believe that successful people have innate learning strategies that help them learn from their failures.

Most people wouldn’t use the term learning strategies, but that is in really what they are.  Successful people create systems or frameworks to understand and learn from their failures.  These systems and frameworks can be learned by others. My path is to explore, investigate, and share what I learn about this theory.

Unmistakable or forgettable?

Because a lot of my inspiration came from Rao’s book if it fails, I guess I can blame him?

Although he did say,

“Nobody is successful because they took somebody else’s roadmap and copied it.”

So I guess I’m on my own.




Rao has a sequel and I predict success and I also predict that reading that book will help me go even further in my journey.

Shane Lester is the Author of the new book: The Value of Failure

“This book will change everything you thought you knew about failure.”

Learn more about Shane and his blog: Learning From Your Failures

Find me on Facebook @hackingfailure