Embracing Failure

elephant dungI believe we need to rethink our views about failure. Truly, the only failure is if we fail to learn from each and every project, regardless of the outcome. I once conducted a pilot of a new training program. The design team wanted to determine if the program was ready to go. I viewed the project as successful because I quickly found all the problems and was ready to address them. However, the team was devastated that they could not go back to the company celebrating their new program. This attitude inhibited their ability to look closely at what worked and what did not. I was ready to suggest a number of improvements, but they were not ready to listen. I later gave feedback to the head of the company about this prevailing attitude of “get it right the first time out”; he was aware of it and concerned and said he would like to change it. He never did, and neither the program nor the company exist in the same form today.

A more enlightened view that creates an environment for more consistent, predictable, and sustainable success is to be a learning organization that views every project as a means to improve. The focus is on overall organizational success, not just on individual project performance. People then feel like they are constantly contributing to organizational and personal knowledge. The point is to “get it right the last time”–meaning that experimentation, trial and error, bad ideas, foolishness, fun times, craziness, scrappiness, collaboration, and creativity–all have their space to operate, finally leading to a successful outcome.

Randy Englund, http://www.englundpmc.com

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2 thoughts on “Embracing Failure”

  1. At a brainstorming meeting I sometimes will ask for bad/wrong answers and throw out candy to everyone who comes up with a “bad” idea. I like the
    idea of rewarding the bravery needed in taking risks. Everyone seems so paranoid to say something wrong that we edit out a lot of great ideas
    before we even begin. I’m thinking of having buttons made that say “I took
    a risk and failed.” Sandra, UCSC Extension Onsite Training

  2. I do a lot of work in Japan, where failure is “fatal” . . . or at least it was in the past. Now there is a new understanding of failure sweeping Japan, the notion of “failing forward.” How do I know? I started it! Although quite a few people with whom I have worked feared failure enough to avoid setting goals entirely, my Japanese colleagues seems to particularly need to reinvent their relationship with failure. The concept of failing forward, of failure as a foundation of success, brings increased willingness to take on more risk, innovate, and create. If we arn’t allowed to fail we can’t start anything!! I say “build a tall junk pile” and learn from it. – Kimberly, Wiefling Consulting

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