Failing or Succeeding With Titanic Leadership

A few weeks ago I wrote an article and a leadership tip of the week on the topic of "Failing is Not Failure." Many of you sent me comments and emails on how this thought stimulated your thinking. I thought it would be good to get more perspective on this idea, so I asked my good friend Dr. Randall Spence to provide some of his thoughts on the topic.

If you enjoy reading about leadership with a spiritual emphasis you will enjoy reading his blog at, or connecting with him on Twitter.

Randy, take it away.....

All of us fail.

We fail in life. We fail in our relationships. We fail in the leadership of our organizations and ourselves.

The question is, do we learn from our failures? Do we attempt to use failure as a mechanism for growth? Or do we allow failure to defeat us, squashing our ambition and our efforts?


The Impact of Failure

The impact of failure on us often prevents us from seeing that right there within the failure, often hidden in plain sight, is the next opportunity.

Let me illustrate with a story about the Titanic.

In an article in the Harvard Review, Tony McCaffrey talks about the Titanic and that fateful night when she collided with the iceberg in the North Atlantic. What the ship's crew did not calculate in that nightmarish moment was that the very thing that sank the ship could also have saved the passengers, virtually everyone.

Let me explain.

According to McCaffrey, the newspapers of that time estimated the size of the iceberg to be between 50 to 100 feet high and 200 to 400 feet long. The Titanic was navigable for a while after the collision, so the crew could have pulled alongside the iceberg where many, if not all, could have climbed on to find flat places to stay out of the water for the four hours it took before help arrived.

Instead, the crew was fixated on the fact that icebergs sink ships and thus failed to see the sheer size and shape of the iceberg, or to reckon with the fact that it would not sink. In other words, the crew failed to see how the very thing that represented failure could also provide for their safety.

The iceberg could have served as their lifeboat. The iceberg that was to kill so many could also have saved virtually everyone.

Functional Fixedness

There is a term for our inability to see opportunity in the midst of failure. The term is functional fixedness and was first articulated in the 1930s by Karl Duncker. It means that we tend to fixate on the common use of an object and thus fail to see other possible uses.

If you grew up like me watching MacGyver, you know that he did not suffer from functional fixedness. If you recall, he was forever getting into bad situations but always managed to escape by using things most of us would never dream of to get himself free or to solve the dilemma. He might take some baling wire, his pocketknife, a few rags, and rubbing alcohol to make an explosive or something else rather outlandish. MacGyver could do this not only because he was a science wiz, but also because he could see beyond the obvious uses of baling wire, a pocketknife, rags, and rubbing alcohol.

Path to Success

I would broaden this definition of functional fixedness a bit to say that in times of personal or business failure we often fixate on the cause of the failure and fail to see that within that failure, sometimes hidden in plain sight, is the next opportunity. It may take some creativity and mental exploration to find it, but it may be right in front of us staring us in the face.

Where does it feel like you are failing in life or in your business today? Look over your answer from every angle.

Do you see a way to use the problem you are facing as a potential way to rescue yourself?

Think about it a bit. You might need a friend, mentor, or coach to help you navigate these waters.

We would love to hear any examples you might provide for this. You can leave a comment below or email us at