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Not many of us would guess that a book by choreographer Twyla Tharp might contain ideas useful to business people. But The Creative Habit, Learn It and Use It for Life, a New York Times bestseller published by Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, is so rich in business advice that it could easily pass for a management textbook, complete with case studies. Even better, it reads quickly and is interesting from beginning to end.

Although there are many helpful suggestions and priceless quotes throughout, Twyla Tharp discusses a common problem near the end of her book: how to recognize, cope with and benefit from failure. Such advice, from a successful person who has survived a few failures and near-failures, is invaluable.

Most people think of their failures more as mistakes, since not every error turns into a disaster, but her advice applies to all the goofs which inevitably occur at some point in our personal and business lives.

Tharp points out that every person has to learn to deal with failure, because failure… is inescapable. Success is preferable to failure, but there is a therapeutic power to failure. It cleanses. It helps you put aside who you arent and reminds you who you are.

She quotes choreographer Jerome Robbins as saying You do your best work after your biggest disasters, adding, For one thing, it almost guarantees that you wont make those mistakes again. She says that you have to forget the failure to get it behind you, but to get the full benefit you have to remember and understand the reasons for it:

First, theres a failure of skill. Your reach exceeds your grasp. Theres only one solution for this kind of failure: Get to work. Develop the skills you need. If you dont have a broad base of skills, youre limiting the number of problems you can solve when trouble hits.

Then theres the failure of concept. You have a weak idea that doesnt hold up… bad idea… bad subject matter… bad partners… bad timing. Get out while the gettings good.

A third kind of failure is one of judgment. Perhaps you let your guard down for a moment. Maybe you let someone elses judgment substitute for yours. Maybe you didnt want to hurt somebodys feelings. The only way to avoid this mistake is to remember atall times that youre the one who will be judged. Its hard to avoid a mistake when youre starting out, but the sooner you demonstrate good judgment, the sooner people will give you the clout to exercise it.

The worst is failure of nerve. I wish I had a cure for this. All I have is the certainty of experience that looking foolish is good for you. You appreciate this more and more over the years as the need not to look foolish fades with youth.

Theres failure through repetition. Repetition is a problem if it forces us to cling to past successes. We lose sight of the fact that we werent searching for a formula when we first did something great; we were in unexplored territory, following our instincts and passions wherever they might lead us. Its only when we look back that we see a path, and its only there because we blazed it.

Finally… there is failure that comes from denial. Denial becomes a liability when you see that something is not working and you refuse to deal with it.

Twyla Tharp adds, Failing, and learning from it, is necessary. By acknowledging failure, you take the first step to conquering it.

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