Failure is OK

12 Jun

failure-is-ok

I play a You Tube Clip to our students leaders on Leaders Day in January all about failure. It is a process many of them have not had to deal with.  All the great success stories, from Michael Jordan to Steve Jobs to James Dyson, are steeped in failure. Most successful people will tell you that you absolutely must fail in order to succeed, and that failure is essential for growth. Many great innovations were born out of failure. Failure, then, is not bad, but rather something to be expected, embraced, and learned from.

I have been thinking that students’ intelligence is determined by how well they succeed, and those who fail are deemed inferior.

Students are celebrated for their successes and punished, teased, or rejected for their failures.

Rarely, in a traditional classroom setting, is failure used as a pathway to innovation.

So our students enter the workforce having grown fearful of failure, believing that any failure will prove them unworthy, and many workplaces prove them right, unwilling or unable to foster an environment where failure is okay.

But if we know that on the other side of failure potentially lies innovation, growth, and discovery, then we need to practice failing, and failing big.

So, how can we change the current mindset, both in ourselves and others, that failure = bad?

Top companies like Google, Toyota, EXXON, Apple and AIG all encourage failure by staff by highlighting the following:

  • They make sure people don’t feel the need to hide or cover up failures, because they make sure their staff know they won’t be fired for the failure—instead they understand that the more quickly they own their failure, the more quickly it can be learned from and built upon.
  • They celebrate failures, sometimes as literal celebrations with beer and wine and sometimes just as public opportunities to say “Great try! We’ve learned so much from this”.
  • They require employees to fail big in their first three months of employment.
  • They actively practice a “no blame” culture, where those who make mistakes are not publicly shamed or blamed, but rather the entire team looks at the mistake and what the next steps or opportunities are.
  • They see mistakes or failures as just that—opportunities for something new or unexpected.
  • They understand that if their team is actively trying things and failing, they will eventually discover something great.
  • They see failure as a beginning not an ending.

Do we advance failure? How are we responding to this now? This week I will remind my staff and students alike that it is OK to FAIL>. 

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