When your gods turn out to have feet of clay. What do they do? It’s not the blame game.

On Saturday one of world rugby’s greatest ever points scorers missed five kicks at goal. In a crunch World Cup match against Argentina Jonny Wilkinson had his worst kicking display for England in 13 years. I know, I know, I don’t care what time it is, pass the scotch.

Ten days before that the world’s fastest man sprung out of his blocks before the starter fired his gun. Usain Bolt was disqualified from the World Athletics Championships 100m.

16 months ago one of the world’s greatest businessmen launched the revolutionary iPhone4. But Steve Jobs’ new phone had a flaw. It could suddenly cut off phone calls.

When great men or women fail in front of audiences of billions, how do they respond? How do they stay great? Do they blame external forces or themselves?

Commentators blamed Jonny’s poor kicking on the rugby ball being used in the World Cup tournament. Did he blame the ball? In fact he said: “I had a bad day. The blame is on me”. No excuses. And he went out and started practising again.

And when the world’s sports fans were denied seeing Usain Bolt in the 100m sprint the commentators unanimously blamed the new One False Start rule. It was a travesty that a regulation designed to please TV scheduling ended up disqualifying “Lightning” Bolt they said. Yet the moment he false started Bolt knew what he had done, he knew the rules and he took off his shirt and left the track. ” Looking for tears?”, he asked reporters. “Not gonna happen.” No excuses. Then he went away and won gold in the 200m with the fourth fastest time ever.

Meanwhile the tech commentariat quivered with horror, disappointment or delight at the humbling of Apple; The design flaw was simple: if your thumb or hand spanned two parts of the external ariel then the phone lost the signal. Speculation took wing that millions of iPhones would have to be recalled. Jobs called a press conference and told the world: “You’re holding the phone wrong”.

(Then launched a smart PR campaign that sent the share price soaring).

What unites these responses to adversity is not whether they blame themselves or not, it’s that they all determine that they will not rest until they come back stronger and better. Failure is just a setback. What unites them is that they do better next time.

 

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