The law of wasted effort


By Candice Pillay

Scientists explain that the process, the journey, the effort and the many failures to any endeavour is recognised as the law of wasted effort. It’s the process of nature’s efforts to reach perfection. For example, did you know that lions only succeed in 25% of the kills they undertake? This doesn’t stop them from attempting the other 75%. Or that half of the eggs of fish are eaten and half of the baby bears die before puberty, or that most of the world’s rain falls in oceans and most of the seeds of trees are eaten by birds.[1] This does not stop nature from still continuing in its cycles of rebirth and regrowth. Nor does it curtail the greater effort for the smaller reward.

For human beings this law translates as the long walk or road to the end of a journey, it’s the many stones you have to step on to get to the other side. The human spirit, however, celebrates success, applauds and rewards the end result. Society demands perfection only. It’s the golden standard. But success is seldom achieved on the first try. Success has its rewards – fame and fortune to the victor. But failure also has its own rewards – experience, life lessons, perseverance, patience, courage, determination, the list goes on. No one wants to fail. But there’s nothing like failure to propel one’s mind and body towards success or as we now come to understand it, the meeting of objectives or goals.

How does one take the process or failures or inaction as opportunities to re-evaluate, re-think and re-imagine?  

The first step is to understand the value of failure. No one wants to fail. Everyone wants to succeed. But seldom does a person succeed on the first go. Failure brings you to a stop. It’s the mind’s disbelief at the outcome. But failure really must be a pause, not a stop. It’s a moment in time to “reflect, re-think and re-imagine”.


Why is it necessary to reflect? Often, we don’t see the problem that has caused the failure. We continue to stare at a point hoping that the solution or answer would emerge much like a 3D picture. Failure is the opportunity to take the proverbial three steps backwards to see the big picture.

[1] Kishore Shintre, The Law of Wasted Efforts Explained, The law of wasted efforts explained (

Firstly, it’s always important to remind yourself the where, the why, the when and the how you started. Take time to plot progress on a chart. This is success in itself, as it shows that you haven’t been stagnant and have progressed. Little steps are still steps.

Secondly, stepping back also allows you to identify the bottle-neck that will help you work back to the cause of the failure. It’s like untying a ball of wool. You have to find the two ends and then undo the mess in between to ensure that the two are connected seamlessly.

Thirdly, looking at the big picture causes you consider the design flaws in your plan and this leads you to re-think.


Pausing to reconsider one’s plans is prudent. Design flaws challenge you to consider undoing some of the work and re-doing it to commit to the design, plan or strategy that you have embarked on. Much like using wool to knit, a small mistake can be carried through in the design that will result in the end result not looking much like the original plan. Correcting a design flaw in your strategy might be a small setback, costing you some resources but in the long run will ensure that the original plan or design or strategy is successful.

Pausing also allows a tweaking of your design-plan-strategy. What may have worked in the beginning might require an innovation or a change in direction or a return to the drawing board. This is not failure. This is necessary.

Finally re-thinking means that you can scrap a design-plan-strategy and start over, which while many consider to be a failure, is what potter’s and bakers do all the time. Re-starting is actually that – an interrupted start and a restart.


In the re-start, we have a second opportunity to imagine a different start and a different outcome. How often have we changed our mind on a menu or a choice of clothing for the day? Albert Einstein reminds us that if we do the same thing repeatedly, we will get the same result. In order to change the result we need to do something differently. In the pause, consider that perhaps the first good idea can be superseded by a second great idea.

In a world of technological innovation and 4IR we must celebrate innovation and embrace rapidly emerging ideas, replacing old technology with new, replacing old methodologies with disruptive market practices. Re-imagination requires boldness to go where no-one has gone before and to challenge the norm.


Pausing in failures allows you to find your great epiphany. There are many great stories of downtrodden scientists or inventors who found their great idea when they gave up. Even in biblical times, Jonah received insight in the whale’s belly, Daniel tamed lions, Joshua caused the sun to stand still.

Reflect in order to receive your epiphany. Failure brings humility. Humility brings new insight. There is nothing like failure to fire up the creative juices to forge ahead.

Finally, don’t discount the value of repeated effort. It might seem like a series of failures will never lead to success. However, you receive invaluable skill and experience by repeating processes. You are perfecting some of your processes, you are refining others. You are becoming the expert on how to succeed one step at a time. Just like the lions get stronger with each chase, they need the failed chases to prepare them for the one they actually catch.

Wasted effort is necessary, failures are necessary. It births in you the qualities you need to reach success.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Support Seven Courses!

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit dolor

Recent posts

Featured articles