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Massive Success Requires Massive Failure

Massive Success Requires Massive Failure

I recently flew to San Francisco to watch America’s Cup, the World’s oldest international sporting event.  It was exhilarating to be watching this historical race live with my yachting buddies.

Our fascination with sport and its real life drama played out in high speed before our eyes in San Francisco Bay. What a race! What twists and unexpected turns! We all learn more from our losses than our wins, and it’s important to remember that success is never final and failure is never fatal. One cannot win unless one learns to fail. Multiply your failure rate and you increase your success rate. It does not matter that you fail, but what you do in response to that failure. One hopes that as a result of each failure, we learn and grow from that experience.

Take Michael Jordan for instance. Most people wouldn’t believe that a man often lauded as the best basketball player of all time, was actually cut from his high school basketball team. Luckily, Jordan didn’t let this setback stop him from playing the game, and he has stated, “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career; I have lost almost 300 games; on 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the games winning shot, and have missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed!”

The America’s Cup is a trophy awarded to the winner of the America’s Cup match races between the two sailing yachts that reach the final. Oracle was the defender of the title, and New Zealand was the challenger. The first team to win 9 races wins the celebrated trophy cup and title for the next 4 years.

No one could have written this script better than it played out in real life, and that, we all know, is the true beauty of sport. It takes you on a journey that forever changes the rules. It was supposed to be an even contest, but started out as an embarrassing slaughter. New Zealand Emirates, having gone through the Challenger Series, were sharper, more cohesive, and just plain out-sailed Oracle; But at 8-1 down, the Americans started to make some changes. First by firing their tactician (an astonishing move), then a few tweaks here and there on their boat, plus they diligently practiced their turns and starts. All of a sudden they started to win some races. 8-2, 8-3, 8-4, they crept up the scoreboard.

Still no one thought they had a chance of winning from so far behind. Yet suddenly they had momentum, and for the first time New Zealand looked beatable. Fast forward and it comes down to history in the making with an 8-8 score. The final day arrived with the winner to take all. The yachting world held their breath as Oracle and NZ Emirates went head to head in the final race.

Was it truly possible to come back from 8- 1 down against New Zealand Emirates one of the finest sailing teams in the world? And from the New Zealanders view point: Could they really blow an 8-1 lead? Suddenly, with the scoreboard at 8-8, the race most people had lost interest in, became the most exciting race ever, in the 162-year history of the event!

Huge TV coverage and live attendance now coveted the event. Who would be the final victors of this magnificent race, after such an unexpected turn of events? Oracle won the final race and won the prestigious title for yet another 3 years! How big was this win? In sailing terms, it was the equivalent of the Boston Red Sox sweeping the final four games of the 2004 ALCS over the New York Yankees, the only 3-0 comeback in major league history. It’s also comparable to the Philadelphia Flyers overcoming a 0-3 deficit to beat the Boston Bruins in the 2010 NHL playoffs.

This Americas Cup will go down as an epic, but it could have been the biggest sporting disaster for America, Oracle and Larry Ellison career. So how did they do it? How did Oracle take a hopeless chain of events, and change it around from massive failure to massive success?

Things change and we don’t always get the cards that we expect. But those that keep their cool, stay calm, and shut out the noise, rise above the situation to succeed. The 2 millimeters of difference I always talk about worked for Team Oracle. At that point in the race it was all about millimeters of change, but the small changes they were able to make made a huge difference to the course of events. I’m sure Larry Ellison will write a book in the next few months about how the Oracle team changed from failures to the victors of America’s Cup, and I’ll be the first to buy the book!

The point of this story is that life truly is this amazing journey; we don’t always have all the answers. But the point is, we all fail to succeed. Never let failure defeat you. Failure is an incredible learning experience. These past months I have been teaching my team about the importance of learning from failure. One cannot be a consistent winner until you have learned to fail. The Oracle Team learned an invaluable lesson from failing big in the beginning. This spurred them into a stronger, more efficient team and catapulted them forward to victory.

“We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.” -Bertha Calloway. And to all you happy sailors, “AHOY THERE!”

Ralph Harris