Failing Better?

I’m going to take us into a bit of discovery about risk and failure…and I promise to bring back to your safety zone in one piece—maybe a little rattled.

We are inundated and over mediated with aspirational and challenging proclamations about the benefits and transformational affects of “failing faster and better.”  The plethora of opportunity that comes with the ability to take risk, be bold, innovate and make mistakes sounds compelling.

Whichever tone you choose, embracing failure makes for a trendy mythology, especially for the aspiring heroes of innovation.

The truth, it’s mostly lip service, while most scramble hysterically to avoid failure at all costs, confirming what many actually experience in most organizations is rampant risk avoidance and resistance to change. And, when someone does make a mistake, more energy is spent playing the “blame game,” which derails any opportunity for learning or advancement.  

So what’s happening?

Fear of failure and rejection are top of the list of some of the most crippling fears. And seemingly for good reason; the threat of judgment, blame and being wrong hangs in the shadows ready to pounce. We are driven by a need to prove ourselves, to be accepted and to be found worthy. This fear becomes an insidious virus that infects our lives and creates distorted stories we carry around as if they are empirical fact.

This dynamic creates a “play it safe,” risk avoidance pattern in our personal and professional lives, creating a pre-emptive avoidance of ever being wrong. Basically shutting down the capacity for discovery, innovation, transformation and change.

The reciprocating patterns that follow risk avoidance and “playing it safe” are: unhealthy appeasement, groupthink, loss of authenticity, distortion and dishonesty and paralyzing bureaucracy and politics.

What many consider to be innovation and risk taking is rampant business, doing lots of things, much of which doesn’t actually create any real value other than consume time and resources.

I want to be very clear—no one respects thoughtless, irresponsible behavior or reactive risk taking.

Let’s reframe the conversation of failure.

What’s behind the idea of failing better?

There’s a mission, a purpose and supreme science behind failing and mistakes; it’s called exploration and discovery. It’s about learning, developing, discovering and then, breaking through to something new and unimagined.

·      Athletes did not get to the Olympic games without failure.

·      Artists and musicians experience painful failures as they move to brilliance.

·      Strong passionate relationships that grow and deepen experience moments of failure and pain.

·      Any company that leads in the market place has a culture steeped in purposeful risk taking and integrating failure.

·      Champagne was created in the 17th century because of a failure.

·      We would not have the life saving vaccines today without failure.

It’s never the failure or mistakes that are the issue, its our willingness to own them and evolve, learn and expand from them.

Thomas Edison framed it simply:

I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.

Reposition for risk taking.

There has to be a whole sale shift of the language and mental concept of failure over to learning and discovery.

Re-language failure and right or wrong into discovery, innovation and creation.

It’s not actually the pursuit of failure, it’s integrating the concept, the mental model to hold what you think and know how to do, “lightly;” understanding it will change, evolve or shift.
You have to start out with an aspiration, an inspiration of something that is important and feels like a stretch—it will loosen up your ego and give you more mental and emotional dexterity to create and change.

It is important to negotiate the conditions for risk taking so the expectations are aligned to support stretching, taking risk, brainstorming and exploring. Removing the “who’s right and who’s wrong.

A POV is not “I’m right, your wrong,” It is a point…of…view.

This is very IMPORTANT: set boundaries around criticism (there is no such thing as constructive criticism) feedback, however is very powerful. It’s the way nature and human biology works—its called the feedback loop. And it is fascinating—the removal criticism over to feedback seems to shift the immune system over to healthier risk taking, empowerment and accountability. Wow, big surprise.

Shared characteristics of individuals that embrace risk taking.

·      They are aspirational; aligned with a greater purpose than the activities or transactions of the day.

·      They have high expectations about life.

·      Higher EQ: empathetic, insightful, self aware with strong emotional boundaries.

·      They are determined; they carry a passion, a drive, a hunger, a belief.

·      They are curious about the unknown; they ask “why” more often.

·      They crave adventure, creative tension, discovery and learning more than having the right answer.

·      They have a natural high degree of self-trust

·      Change is interesting and an adventure—not something to fear

Highly innovative organizations also share common characteristics.

·      The organization’s Mission is like the DNA of everything they do.

·      The brand leads: what we are doing is bigger than just our technology.

·      Money is a by-product of creating value first.

·      Organization is more political savvy than political.

·      Avoids paralyzing bureaucracy.

·      The culture carries a zeal for something bigger.

·      Leadership talks the talk and walks the talk.

·      High personal empowerment, ownership and accountability.

·      Clear about the “why” behind the “what.”

·      Cross disciplinary thinking, team environment—your only as good as the partnerships you build.

·      People are viewed as talent not staff.