Hot and cold… Light and dark… Black and white…
These opposites stand in contrast to each other, but they also help define each other.
Think about it: try to describe darkness without using the word “light.” Try to think about feeling cold without wishing for warmth. It’s very difficult, if you can at all. Even as two opposing ideas, they exist on the same spectrum. In understanding one you understand the other.
And given this relationship, it is interesting why there is not more talk of failure in the leadership development space. Or, at least, why there is not more positive discussion of failure.
Famed inventor Thomas Edison knew that failure had made invaluable contributions to his success. In an interview for American magazine, Edison stated,
I never allow myself to become discouraged under any circumstances. I recall that after we had conducted thousands of experiments on a certain project without solving the problem, one of my associates, after we had conducted the crowning experiment and it had proved a failure, expressed discouragement and disgust over our having failed ‘to find out anything.’ I cheerily assured him that we had learned something. For we had learned for a certainty that the thing couldn’t be done that way, and that we would have to try some other way. We sometimes learn a lot from our failures if we have put into the effort the best thought and work we are capable of.
In the corporate world, failure is often condemned. We spend so much of our time running away from it, considering it taboo, that our teams are too afraid of failure to try anything new – offer any ideas – give any input. We do not see failure as a vital part of our success… and because of this, we miss out on that part of our success!
Has your corporate culture felt stagnant? Stuck? Like it lacks momentum? You might need to convince your team to fail – and these three “failure-friendly” techniques can help:
- Ensure your team members feel safe taking risks.
Of course, a risk is a risk because there is something at stake. We stand to lose something in the course of taking action. There is no way to make someone feel entirely safe taking a risk – after all, then it wouldn’t be a risk. But as a leader, you can encourage innovation by making sure your team doesn’t feel that their job is on the line.
Clearly communicate in word and deed that your workplace is “psychologically safe.” When talking about failure, remove judgment and blame from the equation and openly consider lessons to be learned. Develop standard guidelines for risk-taking, and encourage team leaders to share stories of their own failures.
2. Discuss failure in regular performance reviews.
Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, said, “What gets measured gets managed.” When our teams know they will be held accountable for how much they failed and how well they learned from their failure, they will begin innovating!
Incorporate metrics of failure and innovation into your employee review process. Not only will this ensure that team members are trying new things, but it will also begin to shift their attitude toward failure in general.
3. Invest in resources for experimentation.
Leaders are always visible. Our teams know what we value by watching us invest our time and resources. Offering training workshops or dedicating work hours to experimentation will demonstrate to your team that you value innovation – and respect failure.
Soichiro Honda, founder of Honda Motor Company, once said, “Success is 99% failure.” And in my opinion, the last 1% is composed of our ability to continue trying new things beyond the 99%. The more we are willing to fail, the closer we get to success.
Here’s to a week of failing forward!
That’s all for now,
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