Failure: A Reminder That Improvement Doesn’t Always Look Like Success

A LinkedIn post with big claims caught my attention earlier today. Mr. Hiroshi Mikitani, CEO of Rakuten, boasts, “In this post, I will reveal the secret as to how you can improve your performance by 37x your current performance in the next year.”

Well then, Mr. Mikitani, please do tell.

Expecting his next paragraphs to mention mysterious pills or bizarre brain exercises, I was happy to read about a concept much more familiar. His post talked about the concept of “Kaizen,” which is the Japanese word for “improvement” or “change for the better.” Mr. Mikitani challenges his readers to make a 1% improvement each day, which by the end of a year, results in colossal gains.

I have no argument there. In fact, anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge believer in taking time for self-improvement. This may stem from a deep belief in the power of human potential, or it may be the curious and competitive spirit within me. Whatever the causes are, I understand the rewards we reap when applying ourselves each morning to be a little bit better than the day before.

But you know what’s hard about that? Continuous improvement is exhausting. And it sure as hell doesn’t always look like improvement. Indeed, I believe self-improvement is essential to living a fulfilling life, but guess what? It’s also incredibly messy.

Improvement isn’t always a forward movement.

As any great leader knows, failure is just as essential to success as determination. Failure tests you, teaches you and motivates you to move on with much more tenacity than ever before. An article in the Harvard Business Review tells us that venture capitalists look for start-ups with one or two failures already under their belt. Why? According to the article, failure teaches us “the value of reaching for something far beyond ourselves and how, even if we falter, it stretches us beyond our prior dimensions and emboldens us for the inevitable challenges ahead.“ There is incredible value lurking in our past and present mistakes – as long as we are open and aware of the lessons we can learn from them.

So while I agree with Mr. Mikitani on the importance of constant improvement, it’s also important to be kind to ourselves whenever it looks like we’re just spinning our wheels in the mud, or worse yet – sinking in it. Failure is the life-blood of breakthroughs and the most successful people recognize that improvement comes in many varied forms.

I’d like to know, how do you define improvement?

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