It’s one of the more uncomfortable subjects to discuss. It’s something every human experiences at one point or another, yet we prefer to hide its occurrence from friends, family and co-workers. We’ve even gone so far as to try to banish its negative effects from the lives of our children. However, it’s very likely that all this avoidance is only causing us further distress, in ways we can’t foresee. The experience is failure, and author Dean A. Shepherd argues that we can (and should) learn and grow every time we fail. His new book From Lemons to Lemonade: Squeeze Every Last Drop of Success Out of Your Mistakes is a how-to guide to this surprisingly complicated process.
There is a proverb attributed to the Chinese that says, “A gem is not polished without rubbing, nor a man made perfect without trials.” While no human can ever lay claim to the title of perfect, the other end of the spectrum, where failure resides, is a crown that is avoided like the plague. The first strength of Shepherd’s book is that he forces the reader to accept a reworking of an old cliché, “Failure is not an option.” This is certainly true, because we cannot choose to avoid failure forever. Sooner or later, it hits everyone.
It’s what occurs in the immediate and prolonged aftermath that determines whether or not we turn tragedy into triumph. Unlike many of his contemporaries who write books about failure that draw their philosophies from amateur psychology and quotes from athletes and millionaires, Shepherd goes to the front lines with entrepreneurs who have been to the brink and fought their way back. Many of the people featured in From Lemons to Lemonade have experienced devastating professional failures. This seems to serve an almost two-fold purpose. On one hand it gives the reader profound insight into how an individual can recover from the most dire circumstances. On the other hand, there is a certain motivation to be gained when comparing one’s own failures to those of a more colossal nature. Either way, the use of entrepreneurs, whose very line of work is littered with failure stories, even from the most successful people, greatly enhances From Lemons to Lemonade.
Executives will quickly learn, however, that understanding and benefitting from one’s failures is not an easy practice. Shepherd provides detailed reasons why the path is rocky, starting with the most basic: it’s biological to be disrupted by failure. He points out that the negative emotions that come with failure have been found to impair a person’s ability to process information. Break it down to something simple, like putting a golf ball. If a person missed a crucial five-foot putt, he or she is likely to miss a second, easier putt. In many cases, this is due to over-analysis or fixating on the previous miss. From Lemons to Lemonade takes this concept to the big picture level and teaches readers how to control their emotions to help move past the hurt and into the “help” zone.
Shepherd’s extensive research gives him an advantage over other writers of similar material. He gives readers several exercises to accompany his major concepts. Executives will appreciate that he provides self-evaluation tools to help focus a reader’s efforts. His prose is easy to follow, and he doesn’t fall prey to the type of writing that belongs more to academic journals than to business books. His use of the “Oscillation Strategy” will have a profound impact on anyone who reads From Lemons to Lemonade, and it should help prevent executives from playing the usual game of trying to instantly put failure behind them but having the specter of it haunt them repeatedly.
From Lemons to Lemonade is a needed ally in an ongoing debate in corporate society, as well as general American life. Shepherd is not alone in arguing in favor of the learning potential of failure. There are other authors that have equally postulated that the U.S. education system, whether primary, secondary or college, engineers its students to be so afraid of failure that they are unable to positively handle its consequences when it actually occurs. Rest assured, it will certainly occur at one point or another. This is something business people know all too well. Whether or not the negative becomes a positive is in the hands of the lemon-holder. Shepherd’s book should help executives give failure the necessary squeeze.
From Lemons to Lemonade: Squeeze Every Last Drop of Success Out of Your Mistakes is written by Dean A. Shepherd and published by Wharton School Publishing.