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Failing: Why you need to encourage it more

Perseverance and resilience are key to long-term success and are increasingly sought after in employees. In contrast, failure is a dirty word. It makes us uncomfortable and we try to hide our own failures from others fearing it is a sign of inadequacy.

Do you notice the contradiction there? We admire perseverance and resilience, yet shun failure; but what is perseverance and resilience without failure? It is a strange and contradictory situation where we admire a set of qualities, skills and characteristics, but not the actions and situations that allow those qualities to develop.

Certainly, there are times where failure can have disastrous consequences and in those instances it makes sense to avoid failure. No one wants to see failure in an operating theatre, and catastrophes like Deep Water Horizon illustrate where failure goes wrong. But what about where failure goes right?

The Post-it® note. The light bulb. Democracy. All of these are built on a history of failures. With each failure we learn a little more and get closer to success.

We are only able to carry out surgeries and extract oil from difficult places because of a long list of cumulative failures that built a wealth of knowledge and experience. After all, what is failure if not a learning opportunity?

The challenge here for organisations and their leaders lies in how to build a culture where failure is not only accepted, but actually celebrated. And, how do you do that if you are in an industry, like the resources industries, or government, where safety and compliance are rightly front-of-mind?

Well the first thing is to commit to failing more. As IBM’s Thomas Watson Snr once remarked “The fastest way to succeed is to double your failure rate”. Appreciate that failure is the best teacher and that the iterative process is behind all great developments.

Second, clarify between acceptable and unacceptable failure. Missing out on a sale because you tried a new sales strategy may cost you money, but is a useful learning experience. Failing in operations that lead to workplace injury or environmental damage is not going to be okay; but, the need for quality control and assurance should not suffocate innovation. To ensure you do not suffocate innovation and learning in these areas you need to consciously switch mindsets to improve your long-term success.

Third, ensure you capture the learning opportunity. Failure is a fantastic learning experience, but only if it is used appropriately. Reflect on the failure. What lead to the failure? How was it different from the status quo? What was the rationale behind the change? What were the intended outcomes, and why were the actual outcomes different? And, what can be changed next time to either fail up or build success?

How does your organisation and your team view failure? What could you do differently to get the greatest benefit from your failures?

Want to improve your team's mindset around failure but not sure where to start, get in contact and I'll happily share some tips specific to your situation.

Cheers

Aileen

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