Learn from losers if you really want to succeed

Learn from losers if you really want to succeed

Let's face it: the Ashes are won, there's only the mopping up left, and it's a fair bet the selectors won't be calling me to open the bowling any time soon. It's OK. I'm not bitter. Nor should you be. I doubt they've got you on speed dial either. Just like those publishers who aren't clawing at each other to get to your manuscript.

Your actual chance of being selected as one of the slightly plainer hotties who gets cut in the first episode of Next Top Model? Not great. Your personal invite from Matt and George to drop into MasterChef and teach those oafs how to make your special lemon chiffon tart? It's not in the mail.

Illustration: michaelmucci.com

Illustration: michaelmucci.com

Whatever resolutions you've already broken, you need to move on. After all, the Facebook friends you can't really stand are waiting. There's all those excuses for skipping the gym to be getting on with. Cable TV is just full of repeats waiting for you to enjoy in a slough of despondency.

It's not even as though most of us lead lives of quiet desperation, as Thoreau suggested. He wrote in a time when the best medical treatment available for everything from a shattered femur to a leaky brainpan, was rub a bit of dirt on it and harden up. Thoreau lived in a log cabin, and log cabins featured quaint architectural fancies such as firing loops through which to poke your musket at the native war party who were intent on having a full and frank exchange of blows about the way you seemed to have quietly, desperately built your cabin on their land.

We don't live those lives any more.


We live lives of quiet meh.

Why then is the personal development, breakfast speaker, motivational guru, self- empowerment business dominated by winners? Why listen to people who have done things we're never going to do? (Climb Everest, build space rockets, file our taxes on time.)

Successful American author and thinky man David McRaney offers some insight even though he, unlike you, is a successful author and, unlike hundreds of millions of Americans, rather thinky. (Oh come on, America. You walked into that one just this week. Remember? When one-third of your grown-up population decided evolution was just another scam by godless brainiacs.)

McRaney suggests we can learn nothing from successful people or companies. It is a misconception, he says, that you should focus on the successful if you wish to become successful. On the other hand ''when failure becomes invisible, the difference between failure and success may also become invisible''. Drawing on the example of allied bomber crews in World War II, McRaney reminds us of how likely they were to ''succeed'', that is to survive their bomb runs. Long story short, not very.

''As a member of a World War II bomber crew, you flew for hours above an entire nation [that was] hoping to murder you while suspended in the air, huge, visible from far away, and vulnerable from every direction, above and below, as bullets and flak streamed out to puncture you.''

Any marginal improvement in the chances of not getting violently punctured miles above the hard earth were worth pursuing, but the air force generals looked in the wrong place. They looked at the planes that returned, shot to pieces, with the worst damage always concentrated on the wings, around the tail gunner and along the centre line of the fuselage. Obviously these places needed to be properly armoured, right? Wrong.

These were the places where the bombers were strongest, where they could absorb the most damage and survive. What the bomber boffins had to do was talk to the airmen who didn't make it back, whose planes took critical damage elsewhere. Like the engines, or the cockpit. But they couldn't talk to those airmen, could they? Because they had ''failed'' and died.

As it was in World War II, so too with my fast bowling career. All those hours I spent poring over the works of Dennis Lillee about how to bowl fast? Wasted. I'd have been better off seeking out Scott ''can't bowl, can't throw'' Muller or, even better (which is to say, worse) Chris Matthews, the poor stage-struck gumby who scattered his opening over in Test cricket further and wider than the 12 tribes of Israel. I'm never going to emulate Lillee. But I could totally see myself repeating Matthews. Better to talk to him about how not to do that, than get a lot of useless advice about fast leg-cutters from DKL.

Let's all resolve then, that in 2014 we shall hear nothing from winners. Let's instead seek out our own people. The hapless, the unco', the also-rans and the didn't-even-turn-ups. The inventors of freemium fart apps that brick your phone. The designers of dresses that would make a stick insect look fat. The bad baristas. The unread authors. The failed mountaineers who couldn't even make it up the escalator at the RSL to tell a small audience of confused pensioners, who came for the free biscuits, about how they forgot to fill in their visa application and were imprisoned in a Nepalese detention facility In their stories we'll find our future.

John Birmingham blogs for Fairfax Media at brisbanetimes.com.au/comment/blog/blunt-instrument and for himself at cheeseburgergothic.com.

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