"It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default." ― J.K. Rowling
Deep down, we all know that for us to be successful in this the post-pandemic age of automation we need to take risks, fail fast, adjust and then learn and grow. The problem is this assumes that it is safe for us to do so, when the reality is the fear of failure is totally debilitating. We associate failure with a loss of self-esteem, confidence and credibility and its career damaging at worst and embarrassing at best. There are usually two types of business cultures, one where people make mistakes and the other where people lie. Vulnerability encourages creativity.
If we are going to learn from mistakes, we need to train ourselves to overcome the fear of failure. In my experience of working in training for 26 years, there are two key areas that we need focus on to do that. Instead of being human robots where we keep doing the same things in the same way, we need to embrace and acknowledge our humanness, which includes emotions and flaws. You would think this would come naturally but, from a very early age we are taught to look confident, be assertive and in control. Being vulnerable will need to be relearnt and practiced by everyone - leaders, teams and individuals. Creativity is constantly being sighted as one of the most important skills for the 21st century yet the business processes put in place often stifle creativity through the fear of failure. If we want to stand out and be successful, we need to ignore these feelings, take risks, and make the most of the opportunities that are coming. So, what practical measures can you personally take? Below are some key things you can do personally and take responsibility for your own learning.
1. Practice appreciative enquiry – ask yourself, after each project questions, about what has worked and what might be. So, for example, my daughter during the pandemic lock down started to make bread and had several catastrophic failures, but after each one she reflected on what was good about the bread, what had worked and what she could do next time to improve the result and trust me she is killing the bread making now!
2. Reward yourself for effort as much, if not, more than success. We are so focused on performance that we can often forget that it is effort and practice that often delivers the results.
3. Appreciate the power of “Not Yet” in other words, you don’t fail until you stop trying. I recently bought myself a weighted hula hoop thinking it would be an easy way to burn some calories, but after 2 weeks of being covered with bruises I was ready to throw in the towel. I kept saying I can’t do this yet, but now I can do a 10-minute class without dropping it once.
4. Don’t spend time on recriminations and blame - in most cases pointing fingers just results in future lost opportunities to evolve.
5. Share your ideas early at work, one of the biggest reasons why failure should be welcomed is because it catches potential challenges early.
6. Communication is key – be open, seek meaningful feedforward, own up to your failures and be willing to show vulnerability If you’re a leader,
Work on being a failure-tolerant leader and help your people to overcome the inbuilt fear of failure and create a culture of smart risk taking. Engage at a personal level with your team members and practice giving feedback in a non-judgmental future-focused way, avoid unhelpful criticism and encourage your people to openly admit to mistakes so they develop a growth mindset. It might be useful to answer the following questions honestly and then design and develop your leadership style accordingly. 1. Are you encouraging people to celebrate errors or to bury them? 2. Does your team feel supported or afraid of being punished? 3. Do you focus on finding the lesson or who to blame?
Creating a safe space
When we were little, we learnt from playing, the young brain adapting and growing through trial and error. Getting on the bike and falling off again and again until the big moment of peddling down the road with shouts of encouragement from our parents. Somewhere along the line we may have forgotten it is ok to fail and maybe, as leaders, we also forgot to offer those shouts of encouragement. The best way for us to develop a growth mindset is to normalise failure and learn the value of it. If we accept that it’s normal to fail or make mistakes, then we realise it is not an ending but the beginning of learning.
Find out more about The Growth Mindset in my new book STAND OUT available on Amazon very soon.