Ben Asks: How do you manage failure?

Failure is one of the most normal things in business, science and engineering. Yet in life, it brings us down, tears us apart and makes us negative towards others. Why?

Failing sucks, right? I’ve been fired from a job, crashed a car and flunked numerous exams. 

If I listed all my failures, you would probably wonder why you are reading a blog from such a pathetic person.  However, I would guess the same would be true when looking at some of the most successful people in the world. 

If you looked at the shots Michael Jordan missed, the number of races Lewis Hamilton hasn’t won or even the number of times Elon Musk’s SpaceX rockets crashed, you would probably think they were losers too. But in most cases failure is good – Why? Because nothing teaches you more about how something works than when something fails.

If a vehicle manufacturer wants to know how far a car can drive, they put it through a durability cycle and literally drive it until things break. When they break, then they are logged and the engineers can correlate whether their calculations were correct or not. They learn only in the moment of failure.

When something fails in engineering, we look at it, analyse it and ask the question, why did it fail?

In answering that question, then we make sure it doesn’t happen again and the product gets better. 

You look at what is not good, constantly, and work on those things to make it work. The PDCA cycle is a great example of this.

The difficulty arises when you become so focussed and so conditioned on looking at the failures or the negatives, that you don’t have time to stand back and look at the successes.  

As a ‘detail-driven’ person, it took me well over two years living in the house I built to stop looking at the small mistakes, the pieces of wood I didn’t cut right or the slight error in production of some things. To stand back and see the house as a whole end result and form a different opinion. 

This conditioning of always looking at the negatives and seeing failures more than successes was really a contributing factor to my struggle in life. At work, projects have defined timelines and new ones are always coming along to keep you distracted from the one that has just gone by. If you messed up on a project three years ago, chances are you’ve already chalked it off and moved on to the next. The longer timeline helps you in these cases.

But in life, it seems to be harder. Sometimes, like me, we will look back on things that happened three years ago and still feel pain, regret or sadness. 

When we focus on the failures, we tend to miss what else is going on. Just like a plot of the FTSE 100 where the failures like the 2008 financial crisis are just blips in the road to a constantly increasing chart.


In 2017 my wife and I thought about starting a house build project. We found a company to deliver the materials and we knew a builder who would be the project manager and oversee the construction. He was a long-term friend of my wifes brother and his family lived only 100m away from the building plot.  If you were going to trust anyone in a foreign country with your hard-earned cash, he was up there high on the list. 

Our assumption though, could not have been any worse as in 2018, this very same person had walked off with £130,000 of our money and left us with only a bare strip of ground. 

Trusting this guy and just paying him money without checking, questioning or vetting was by far the biggest failure in my life. It put me back years in my plan with regards to integrating to Norway, my career and my finances and was a huge contributing factor to my breakdown. 

That failure though, looking back from a far, was actually quite a good thing to happen to me. If that guy had not done what he did to us, things would not be as good as they are now. 

You might ask, how can someone come into your life, rip it to parts, drink champagne each weekend in the local bar on your money and that has possibly been a good thing that happened to you?

Well, in engineering, failure has three beneficial results and the same three things we should all learn from for life too. 

  1. Teaches you a lesson / you learn something
  2. Stops you heading down a wrong path
  3. Provides you or others with information

Teaches you a lesson / you learn something

I grew up in the North of England. Raised to be polite and respectful, especially to ‘elders’, I trusted everyone. Looking back now, perhaps a bit too much. I thought that no one would do bad things to intentionally hurt you. Unsurprisingly after being conned, guess what? I learnt that wasn’t the case. Perhaps I’d been a bit naive, but it’s only natural to judge others by your own standards and I don’t consider honesty a character flaw. 

We’ll never know if this chap was a bad egg or a good person or simply in a desperate situation making a very poor decision. Yet, learning and accepting that good and bad people can do bad things, that no matter how nice, how friendly, how much they belong to  a group of friends, if the opportunity or circumstance presents itself, you can leave yourself open to being taken advantage of.

As I move more into a more entrepreneurial role— with my side hustle and this blog—dealing with contracts and paperwork has become quite a common thing. I need to be quite savvy when it comes to removing the person and looking at the facts, figures and the risks. After that guy made me curl up in my bed and cry my eyes out each night for well over a half a year, I check and recheck every line of paperwork and conduct background checks on the people themselves.  

These lessons, learnt the hard way, have helped me in two other cases since our misfortune. I could have lost a lot of money if I hadn’t gone through this horrible experience. I have evolved into a new version of me, only through the pain of failure. 

Stops you heading down a wrong path

An idea is a brilliant thing right? It’s something that comes into your mind and then blossoms into something beautiful. However not all ideas turn out great. The use of hydrogen in airships was thought to be quite good, until of course that disastrous day resulting in the loss of life with the LZ 129 Hindenburg. 

When the con man came and went, at that point in my career, I had lost sight of engineering. I had been seduced by the world of sales and thought this would be a good new start for me. I had moved to Norway and maybe a different role in a different country was what I was supposed to be doing. I worked with the con man creating house build projects that we could build and sell. One week, I had believed in everything this man had to say that I was ready to quit my job and go and work on this marvelous future venture with him. In that very same week, we found out from another builder that everything he had been telling us was complete lies and we really ought to go and get a lawyer. I retracted my thought of resignation and luckily the two events happened in the right order.

Ultimately the whole ordeal led me to go back to engineering and kept it firmly in place as my head focus in life. This blog would not be being written if I had headed down the path of being a full time salesperson. That path was closed by failure. Looking back, it was the right decision.

Provides you or others with information

When a new thing comes to market, there is a distribution curve on who will buy this fancy new product. It’s a well-documented idea and can be implemented on who will buy a product, who will pick up and idea, or who will even wear a radically new design of dress. This theory is called the ‘Diffusion of Innovations’ by Everett Rogers. 

Upon release, individuals called the ‘Innovators’ will be the first to pick it up. They take the risk, experience the new fancy thing first—whether it works or not. Then the ‘early adopters’ then come the ‘early majority’. By now,some of the risk has been removed by the ‘innovators’. Finally the ‘late majority’ and the ‘laggards’ who have watched everyone else test this new product and proved its success, will pick it up and buy it. 

Rogers Everett – Based on Rogers, E. (1962) Diffusion of innovations. Free Press, London, NY, USA.

By my wife and I failing, our whole community found out that this guy was a con man. People that would have used him to complete jobs now understood him as a crook and did not. We saved them from potential pain and upset. We were the (unfortunate) ‘innovators’ that gave the information to the rest of the people. 

The friend circle that this guy was in, thought he was an OK guy. Our big failure opened the box which exposed this guy to the world. People who had been caught up in his lies and cheats suddenly realised he was pulling the rug from underneath them. They managed to jump before themselves would fall. 

Much like watching a component failing on a competitor’s product and that giving you information to be better yourselves. Our failure helped our community cast off a bad apple and ensured no one was hurt like this again.

My regret looking back on this whole thing was how I reacted at the time. In our group of friends, I would moan, send messages and probably bring peoples spirits down with the negativity of ‘why me?’. 

People’s views on me changed through this process and they saw me moaning and complaining about what this horrible man did to us. I could see the once smiling people welcoming me to a party or an event, would soon scurry away, not wanting to have their energy reduced by our tales of woe.

But from the outside looking in, the situation was one that I didn’t check, therefore it’s kinda my fault, right? 

I wish I only knew about life’s failure and the benefits to them beforehand. In those times I didn’t have anyone to guide me, to be a mentor, or to stand by my side and teach me the things that I’m sharing with you now. I wish I took each day as it came and had a clear enough mind to say ‘hey, this has happened, ok there will be positives in the future, just keep moving forwards’. 

When you fail, or if you are looking back on a failure, I would suggest you maybe look at these 3 points and see how actually that failure helped or is helping you. You may not see it directly in the moment of failure, but a little down the road then it may become clearer. 

  1. Teaches you a lesson / you learn something
  2. Stops you heading down a wrong path
  3. Provides you or others with information

A quote I heard recently, about the story of Brian Banks. The football player was wrongly imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. His mentor, Jerome Johnson said. . .

“All you can control in life is how you respond to life [itself].” 

Failure is normal and sure enough it will happen. Just like a plot of the FSTE 100, you will still keep moving forwards and eventually the chart will be higher than before. You just need to react the best you can when failure happens.

Ben Stalsberg

Try sitting down and look back on your life at your biggest ‘failure’. Then try to understand why it happened and how now you are a better person for it. Send me a mail if you find this to be a positive experience.

Copyright © 2020 – Ben Stalsberg – All Rights Reserved


Ben Explains: Root Cause Analysis

All too often we get distracted dealing with the symptoms of our issues, rather than the root causes. Today we’ll discuss Root Cause Analysis and learn how to channel precious energy and time into making more progress. More progress equals more productivity.

Engineering can be defined as ‘The action of artfully bringing something about’. 

Maybe you’ve read a couple of posts, sat down at the table and thought, ‘right, time to get this **** sorted’. Then stalled, just as I did. Trying to solve the problem of ‘life’ is like trying to eat an adult elephant with a baby spoon, it’s hard! (Not that I would ever condone eating an elephant, but you get the visual: Big Thing, Tiny Tool).

Over the years, engineers have developed a number of  tips, tricks and techniques to ‘standardise’ the way we work to ensure we are the most efficient in our jobs. It’s ‘evolution over revolution’ because if someone has already done the hard work, then why reinvent the wheel?

As engineering covers such a wide range of topics, even our own personal, chaotic, lives can benefit from these  methods. Last week I discussed how engineering is about solving problems, so here is a tool to help you firstly define the problem, then for you to go about artfully solving it.

So what is the root cause of the problem? (This is a phrase I constantly come back to, as it’s vitally important in engineering.) 

We are all capable of solving problems. In fact, there is no better person to solve your problems but you. It is you who understands your life better than anyone else ever could. As intelligent beings, we have the power of the internet to ‘search and solve’ even the most problematic of everyday scenarios. Or at least find a crevice in some far-flung corner of the internet, where one or two others are experiencing the same problem as we are—solidarity is a great first step. A little self-belief doesn’t hurt either.

However, all too often, we recognise there’s a problem, then we panic. Distressed at the difficulty in which we find ourselves, we fog our brains, failing to clearly define what we need to focus upon, failing to convince ourselves we can handle it. 

We would never go to the mechanics workshop and say “it’s broken” without giving some hint as to where it was broken first. The bill for the mechanic to find the fault, in the myriad of components on an automobile, if not completely obvious, would be astronomical.  Sometimes then, we need to sit down, look at ourselves in the mirror and ask, what exactly has gone wrong?  

I’m struggling with my money. OK, but what exactly are you struggling with? Are you being paid too little, do you run out of money before the next pay cheque? Are your bills greater than your income? 

My side hustle is struggling. OK, but what exactly is the problem? Are your products selling? Is your advertising working? What feedback are you getting from the customers?

My relationship is on the rocks. OK, have you sat down and talked about it? Have you been to see an expert? Do you need to get away, together, for a weekend?

We need to first find the ‘Root Cause’ of the problem, or the fundamental underlying issue, that sprouts all the chaos above ground before we can try and solve it. This is known in the trade as ‘Root Cause Analysis’ (RCA).

When engineers come across a machine that is broken, or one that is just not running quite right, they might ask ‘why’, and then ask ‘why’ four more times again. 

This is a technique in engineering, called the ‘5-Why’ method. Developed by Sakichi Toyoda with the Toyota Motor Corporation, it is a system that aids you to find that fundamental problem. 


There is a dent in the wall – why?

Because the door has been hitting it – why?

Because the stopper has come loose – why?

Because the stopper only has one screw in it – why?

Because the other has broken – why?

Because it was the wrong size screw. ROOT CAUSE


To fix the problem of the dent in the wall, we need to find the right size screw to fix the stopper in the floor.

As you expand into environments with thousands of components, machines and processes, accurately finding and defining the ‘Root Cause’ of the problem is the key to success.

The better you can make your ‘problem definition’ the more clarity and focus you have to fix it.  


I’m struggling with money – why?

Because the money runs out before the end of the month – why?

Because I’m spending more than I’m earning – why?

Because I don’t know how much I spend each month – why?

Because I don’t have a budget – why?

Because I never thought it was needed. ROOT CAUSE.


When completing this exercise its vitally important to stay focussed on the problem at hand and not to deviate off onto problems in other areas. Take these two examples for instance.


I’m always late for work – why?

I always hit rush hour traffic – why?

There is a junction where all the workers in the neighbourhood must pass and the queues are a nightmare! – why?

Because the road system is not good enough to cope with the traffic levels – why?

The designers of the roads didn’t know what they were doing?? 


This is not finding the root cause of the problem. The process is an iterative cycle and as we know, anything that rotates tends to move things outwards, due to the centrifugal force. Therefore it is vitally important to keep the focus inwards, on factors you yourself can control. 


I’m always late for work – why?

I always hit rush hour traffic – why?

Because I start work at 8 and therefore I leave at 7:30, just like everyone else – why?

Because that’s the routine I have had for many years – why?

Because in the past, setting off at 7:30 was fine, until they built that new factory last year, now the traffic has increased – why? (stay inward focussed here!)

Because when the situation changed, I didn’t continually analyse my day, and figure out a new, more efficient process. ROOT CAUSE.


A word of caution though. If you complete the ‘5 whys’ correctly, it’s going to take you to some places that may really challenge you emotionally. This can be disruptive, but the reward is worth the work. Below are examples I recently completed for my normal day-to-day job situation. I could sit down and blame the company but the root cause of my problem lay directly at my feet. 


I’m unhappy at work – why?

Because I don’t feel motivated to do it anymore- why?

Because I expect more from the company with regards to the effort I’m putting in – why?

Because they don’t pay the employees any bonuses for the additional hard work we complete, leaving us feeling like ‘why should we bother?’  – why?

Because they don’t see the value in treating employees fairly and we are the ones they should be encouraging to be more of a successful company – why?

Because they haven’t been trained on how to run a successful company? NOT A ROOT CAUSE for my problem. 


As you can see this is not solving the problem of why I am unhappy at work. It’s just moaning about the situation and my focus has been cast external, not internal. The inward ‘5-why’ method for my job situation actually looks like this.


I’m unhappy at work – why?

Because I don’t feel motivated to do it anymore- why?

Because I expect more from the company with regards to the effort I’m putting in – why?

Because my research on how the company runs, before I took the job wasn’t good enough – why?

Because I never thought I needed to check on a company, the vision and strategy, reward systems and ask current employees what they think – why?

Because I assumed it would all be OK as it has in the past. But my assumption led me to not checking all the relevant facts and information that was important to me first; and I only found out it was like this after I accepted the job.  ROOT CAUSE


So now I have two options. I stick it out in the company and accept it for what it is. Or I search for a new job and in that process, I complete the proper research before accepting it. It was a tough lesson for me to learn, not least because it brought me face-to-face with my ego. Such reckoning can be really uncomfortable, and that’s ok. If you’re really struggling with a decision though, I want to encourage you to seek professional support. I assure you, there’s no shame in it. 

But what about the company, some might say? Well imagine in an ideal world, everyone completed really deep research on a company before they took the job. Soon, companies that treated employees poorly would be forced to change their ways as no one would work for them… for thought, no?!

Using the ‘5-why’ method is a powerful technique  in directing your vision towards the one thing that needs to be fixed, solved or improved.

It can be used for simple obstacles around the house, or for large challenges like your work, home life or financial situation. 

Sometimes they are quick to complete, sometimes they take days. But when you master the 5-Why method, the results can be extremely rewarding.

And don’t worry, I’ll give you tips on how to solve problems as you find them.  So enjoy! 

Ben Stalsberg

What would you define your major problems are and what do you think the root cause of them is? Why don’t you take some time out this weekend and try a couple of examples?

Copyright © 2020 – Ben Stalsberg – All Rights Reserved

Ben Asks: Do you need help?

Does your work seem a bit pointless, there’s not enough money to do all the things you want to do and there’s never enough time in the week to get it all done? Are you sitting, wondering, why isn’t this easy anymore?!

The master plan was laid out by our parents; get a job, get a partner, buy a house, take a loan, work, pay bills, have kids and then live a happy life, right? But now, for whatever reason, you’ve sat down, stared at your screens, amid the complete disorder and confusion, and thought, **** what now? Why is the plan not working? Set off down the river of life with a map of where to go, but you’ve just ended up totally lost.

I get it, I’ve been there, and first up, it’s NOT your fault. We were just the unlucky ones that were told we could have the world (if we worked hard enough?), but ended up just like Oliver Twist asking “Please Sir, can I have some more?”.  

The most important action point  is to STOP. Now. Before you go too far. Stop  figure it all out before it gets too late. For me, it led me down a one-way path to the doctors office, getting signed off for stress and depression, and I don’t want that happening to you!

So I ask, do you want to be free? Do you wanna do what you wanna do? Do you want to say those immortal words at the start of the song “Loaded” by Primal Scream and hear those trumpets blaring as you succeed at life? 

I’m here to help you. Having figured out a journey for myself to get off this path (and onto a happier, healthier one) the hard way, I’d like to share my findings to make it easier for you, to accelerate your journey. I’m going to show you how to ENGINEER YOUR LIFE FOR SUCCESS. 

What does that mean though? Well, sometimes life can be a bit grey and sometimes we need  to try and make things a little more black and white. Engineering, in the way it uses facts, figures, statistics etc. is very much a black and white world. We can logically look at life’s problems and try to use logical methods, data analysis, engineering management techniques, that have already been proven over hundreds of years, in manufacturing facilities from all over the world, to try to make life less pointless, easier and happier.

So what is the root cause of the problem? 

The second law of Thermodynamics states that all order will descend into chaos over a given period of time. 

Thermodynamics, is a fancy word for the relationship between heat and other forms of energy, and there are three “laws”, each describing something that we have observed as engineers or scientists, which can explain why certain things happen. 

To describe the 2nd law, imagine you have two rooms, one full of hot air and another filled with cold. When you open the door, the hot air tries to lose its energy by moving to the cold room. As the hot air starts to mix with the cold air, there is no longer order in the system.

The two separate, ordered, elements begin to mix. Just like pouring milk in your tea or coffee in the morning and watching the white fluid, combine with the black. 

It takes some time to fully combine into the brown end result and once you have poured that first drop of milk, there is no going back. You have taken two organised items and combined them. In this combination, you have created chaos. Sometimes, as in the case of a nice cup of coffee , this works out quite well indeed. Often, however, particularly in the case of life, it doesn’t.

The measure of how much chaos the system has is called “Entropy”, a word, which is now not only used in science, to describe the amount of chaos, or disorder in a system. It is also used in jewellery, economics, business workplaces, etc. The higher the entropy, the more chaos there is. The lower the number, the more stable the situation. 

When the two rooms have equalised or the milk is fully stirred into the coffee. This is when chaos is at its highest and the entropy is also at its highest value. To try to separate those two items again back to their original states would be almost impossible and if the system is closed, where no external factors can affect the situation, it is deemed to be simply irreversible. 

The only way to achieve zero chaos, or to have the entropy with a zero value, is to have an absolute zero temperature. Nothing moves. Therefore, if nothing is moving, nothing can combine with anything, no chaos can occur.

But that’s not living is it? If we never moved, then we’d just be existing. So, we have to move and when we move, we create chaos The more we do, the busier we get, then the more chaos we add in. This is happening to everyone. Therefore when we are in a workplace for example, or a store or a school, with multiple people, all creating chaos, we really need to be on top of our game. Otherwise, before you know it, you feel overwhelmed, and all the plates you have spinning fall to the ground.

A few years back, my plates crashed to the floor pretty dramatically. It’s not common as a guy to admit these things. As I sat in a psychologist’s office, crying into my sleeve, snot running out my nose, a victim of my own chaos, I looked at the physician in desperation.  “Go and find out who you really are” was her only advice. She was convinced that, with this information, I would be able to figure out how to fix the problematic situation that I was in. 

At first, I was stunned. Go and what? I was sitting there, pouring my heart out to this person and what I really wanted was for a step to step guide of how to fix myself. What was I paying her for?! But as I contemplated her advice, I realised the answer was actually right in front of me. 

Never did I think that the only way to get me out of the situation was looking at the one thing I had been doing for my whole life. ENGINEERING. 

I embarked on a plan to Engineer my Life.  

When I started to analyse my life as if I was at work, my progress was  incredible. I could organise, simplify and execute in a smarter, faster, more elegant way, with more productivity than ever before. I found simple theories embedded in the heart of engineering, and turned them around and pointed them squarely at my situation. I lost my fear, I challenged my workplace, I had more money, I had more free time. I was less stressed, healthier, stronger, happier than ever before.  Like a shipwreck being brought up from the ocean bed, or an old banger restored to its former glory, I came back and went beyond where I originally was. 

The key to all this extraordinary amount of personal growth was to invest time into making my life, money, work and health, more efficient. I planned everything from my time used throughout the day to how much money I was spending on a five month ahead basis. 

I started to work smarter, not harder and the results were seen immediately. I stood back, climbed up the mountain and looked down on my life from a far and saw my new path ahead was far better than the muddy swamp I’d been trailing in before.

So why is this story pertinent to you?

Looking around my friendship group, I realise I’m not the only one getting to my mid-to-late thirties and wondering if I took a wrong turn, asking why I didn’t appear to have the coping skills needed to deal healthily with life’s dealt disappointments early on so they didn’t grow into disasters. On the other side of what can only be described as a pretty traumatic struggle, I know I would have learned faster if I’d had a mentor, just as in business, to guide me through the emotional gauntlet of life. 

I want to explain the theories to you, so that you can gain some control in this world full of chaos. Just the same as people’s preference of how much milk is good for their taste of a milky coffee, there is a limit of how much chaos is acceptable for people’s lives. To control the chaos, to limit the amount to our own personal level, we need to input energy by means of control measures.  

As we look at our own lives and the chaos life creates–both day-to-day and longer term–, then it helps to start thinking in terms of chaos and Entropy. If we know and accept that chaos will occur in life, it is written in the law, our aim should be to try and aim for the lowest Entropy value possible. We can’t always control external forces, that’s just how the game works, but by ensuring the value is low in what we can control, external forces only push the value up slightly, rather than dramatically.

We need more order in our lives, according to Erwin Schrödinger. In his 1944 Book, “What is Life”, he stated we need to have more Negentropy. Schrödinger, described Negentrohpy as “negative entropy” and states that as an organism, we crave order What an organism feeds upon is negative entropy.” 

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, from the Bioelectrodynamics Laboratory, Open University, U.K,  explains this as 

Schrödinger uses it to identify the remarkable ability of the living system, not only to avoid the effects of entropy production – as dictated by the second law – but to do just the opposite, to increase organization, which intuitively, seems like the converse of entropy.”

Therefore, to create more order from the chaos that we live in, I want to show you tried and tested techniques from Engineering.  Methodologies that control the chaos in production facilities for example, and explain how you could use them in your life. 

I want to show you how you too could analyse your life and make it better with Lean Engineering, the PDCA Cycle, or Plan, Do, Check, Action. I want to show you how you could use the 5S principle to get organised. Or how  water–the source of life–demonstrates  why it’s so hard to change our actions to get onto a more progressive path. I want you to understand that maybe your boss is a victim of the Peter Principle, your company doesn’t love you and why you need emotional distance to obtain equality. I want to show you how you could organise your money, so you will have safety and security, bringing less stress.

Together we can engineer your life, wellbeing, money and work for a happier, healthier, more prosperous and successful way of life.

Every Friday evening I’ll be posting. All you need to do is subscribe to be alerted when there’s a new post. 

Now, go listen to Primal Scream and get fired up. We’re going on a journey and we’re going to get loaded on life! We’re going to have a party!  


Ben Stalsberg

While waiting for the next blog, consider the phrase ‘Go and find out who you really are’. How would you react to this statement? Who is the real you? What steps do you think you need to take for that discovery?

Copyright © 2020 – Ben Stalsberg – All Rights Reserved