Tuesday, May 18, 2010

When Champions Fail

By Jayesh Tekchandaney

"The IPL is not just about cricket. There are a lot of things happening around it. The players must be smart about it. They have to respect the body, give it some time to recover because it's not just about playing. There have been day-night matches, then parties, and then early morning flights too. All this, including the travel, takes a toll." That's what M.S.Dhoni said in justification, after India's disastrous performance at the T20 World Cup this year.

The same captain led the Chennai Super Kings to the IPL T20 win less than three weeks before the ouster of Team India from the World Cup. And going by his theory, whatever happened during the IPL was what caused the World Cup disaster. These words coming from "Captain Cool" are no more than an excuse for failure. Even though I have a lot of respect for the man who brought us the first T20 World Cup, I wish that rather than blaming the IPL for the World Cup failure he should have analyzed the real reasons for the failure, graciously accepted the mistakes and took some lessons from it.

This article is not about Team India's failure at the T20 World Cup in West Indies. It is about learning to deal with failure, the way the real champions do.

Failure like death is inevitable. As J.K.Rowling told the Harvard graduating class, "It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all-in which case, you fail by default." Failure comes to all. But what is important is how you decide to deal with it.

John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach says, you aren't a failure until you start to blame. What he means is that you can still be in the process of learning from your mistakes until you begin denying them. That's where the problem begins. As human beings, we always find excuses for not succeeding. We often lay a blame on someone else or something that was responsible for our failure. And so do the champions, after all they are human beings too.

The legendary tennis player John McEnroe often tried to repair his self-esteem after losing by assigning blame or making excuses. Going by his own judgment it was never his fault - it was always the outside forces. One time he lost a match because he had fever. Another time he had a backache. Sometimes he fell victim to expectations, other times to the tabloids. One loss was because he ate too close to the match. He lost some games because it was cold. He lost others because he could not cope up with the heat. Sometimes he was under-trained, at other times he was over-trained. His most painful loss was to Even Lendl in the 1984 French Open. Why did he lose after leading 2 sets to nil? According to McEnroe, it wasn't his fault. An NBC cameraman had taken off his headset and a noise started coming from the side of the court.

The problem with John McEnroe was that he did not accept his failure. He did not want to learn from the failure. He did not thrive on challenges; when the going got tough, he often folded. As a result, by his own admission he did not fulfill his potential. After his playing days he confessed that his on-court temper tantrums were only a cover for not playing well. Instead of finding the real reasons for losing, he made excuses. Instead of getting back the basics right and practicing hard, he relied purely on his natural talent. He was the number one player in the world for four years - but he was a champion who did not know how to deal with failure.

On the other hand, Michael Jordan is a great example about success through failure. In a commercial for Nike-famous for its failure-defying tagline "Just do it"-Jordan says, "I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I've been trusted to take the game winning shot, and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life-and that is why I succeed."

Michael Jordon wasn't a natural talent. He was cut from the high school varsity team. He worked hard to get back. He left his home at six in the morning to get in some hours of practice before school. Then at the University of North Carolina, he worked on what he thought were his weaknesses - his defensive game, his ball handling and shooting skills. Once, after his team lost the last game of the season, Jordon went back to the court and practiced his shots for hours - he had started his preparations for the next year. He is probably one of the hardest-working athletes in the history of sport. Only once did he take it easy. It was the year he returned to the Bulls after his stint in baseball. The Bulls were eliminated in the play-offs. Jordon learned his lesson, "You can't leave and think you can come back and dominate this game. I will be physically and mentally prepared from now on." For the next three years, the Chicago Bulls won the NBA title. With Michael Jordon the Chicago Bulls won six NBA championships. "I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can't accept not trying," said Michael Jordan.

This is something which M.S. Dhoni and the Indian team should make note of. The team didn't train after either of the first two defeats in the Super-8's games. "What do we gain in a day's practice. We thought it would be better to take some time off and turn up fresh for the games," argued Dhoni.

Sports can be a great teacher - the lessons of this article are not just for the Indian cricket team. They are for all of us. We have to learn to deal with our failures. Failures are not always bad. A failure is a pit-stop on the journey to success. Failure is a feedback. Failure shows what doesn't work. Failure tells us that something needs to be fixed. Failure has a positive power in that we learn we can survive, go on, and discover talents previously hidden. Most importantly - failure humbles, it reminds us that we are not supermen but human beings who will some day fall to ground.

Failure is so painful that it almost guarantees that we won't make the same mistakes again. When we fail, we are at the bottom. We have nothing more to lose. And the only place to go is up. The golfer Bobby Jones said, "I never learned anything from a match I won". He respected defeat and he profited from it. It's important to be able to forget the pain of failure while retaining the lessons from it.

Tiger Woods commented in the 2006 Buick interview. "Oh, a lot. It's just experience. I've put myself in so many different scenarios and have been successful and have failed, and I've had to learn from both. Why did I fail? Well, because of this. Why did I succeed? Well, because of this. You have to analyze, you have to be critical, and you have to understand that you have to take hard looks at yourself. Over the years I've done that, and I think that's one of the reasons why I've been able to keep progressing through the years. Trust me, it's not always easy, but my father has always harped on me, always be honest with yourself, true to yourself, look yourself in the mirror and be honest. Some days are tougher than others. When you know you've absolutely messed up, you have to admit it and move on and learn and apply. And I've done that." This message needs get across to Mr. Dhoni and his team.

P.S. - The only problem with failure is that, we as human beings perceive failure as an identity. That's because, "I failed to..." is perceived as "I am a failure". As a result, most people fear failure. Failure is not an identity, it is only a judgment about an event. What matters is how we cope with failure, not the event itself. "Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall" - Confucius

Business Owner, Management Guru, Industrialist, Engineer, Cultural Commentator and Intellectual Adventurer, Jayesh Tekchandaney was born in 1976 in Mumbai in a higly educated family. He grew up in Mumbai and graduated with a degree in Chemical Engineering in 1998. He then pursued a Business Management Diploma followed by a Masters In Industrial Engineering from The Pennsylvania State University, USA. His curiosity, interests and creativity are shown in his Research Thesis on "Web Based Product Customization And Consumer Brand Experience", ranging over a wide array of subjects like manufacturing, mass customization, advertising, web site design, brand perception.

With Business Interests in Manufacturing and Information Technology, the author uses all his education and experience to train team members and colleagues towards building a world class organization. A keen and very sharp observer of life the author has a unique quality of relating to daily events in a subtle way to draw constructive conclusions.

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