“Failure is success in progress.” Albert Einstein
We spend much of our lives trying to avoid failure. We study in school, wear protective gear when playing sports, and try to make the best, most informed decisions when it comes to our careers. We are wired to avoid pain, and failure is painful. Yet the irony remains that without failure, growth and improvement will not happen. Failure is a “hot” topic in business circles right now, with the focus on embracing failure. While it may be a trendy issue, there are far more pragmatic reasons to examine and learn from failure. From Fast Company:
I believe that (the embrace failure movement has) taken off because it taps into a widespread sense that we, as individuals, teams, organizations, and even societies, live in an era where we cannot always get things right the first time, no matter how smart we are or how carefully we plan,” says Anjali Sastry.
Taking this argument one step further, we live in an imperfect world where failure is inevitable. The idea of “embracing” failure might seem fanciful, but trying to avoid something that is inevitable is a fruitless endeavor. How do we encounter and meet failure without giving it too much notice?
As humans, we avoid pain. By opening ourselves to the idea that failure is an option and not something to be avoided at all costs, we prepare ourselves mentally for the possibility of its occurrence. Silicon Valley has a “fail fast” mentality. In other words, expect that you will fail, and do it quickly so you can move on with lessons learned. Set up initiatives and projects with the possibility of failure built in. Accept that risk is inherent in pretty much any business venture, project, or initiative. With more risk comes a higher possibility of failure.
The Process, Not the Outcome
When planning a new project or initiative, focus on building a strong project management process and team, with concrete steps in place. Only keeping your “eyes on the prize,” the end result, will remove attention from the one thing that can assure success: how you actually reach your end goal. In essence, it’s the journey, not the destination. You may still fail- there are never guarantees. However, by taking careful steps along the way, it may be easier to identify what went wrong.
Recalibrate After Failure
When a project or initiative fails, there is often a meeting to discuss repercussions. This is often a dreaded meeting, because it can quickly become an exercise in finger pointing. However, there is real opportunity here to take responsibility and identify what specifically went wrong. Rather than putting people on the defensive by making failure punitive, making mistakes less taboo may enhance the learning experience and establish real and workable takeaways to improve the chance of success in the future.
The potential for failure induces fear and avoidance. We may be concerned that a mistake reflects poorly in a professional sense, on our skills, abilities, and potential. The trend of embracing failure, then, attempts to remove that barrier, to make us more comfortable with an inevitable occurrence. If we can expect that failure is a distinct possibility and a ripe opportunity for learning, then we can make success a more real possibility.