“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald
Failure is a dirty word in our society. Most of us are programmed from a very young age to believe that failure is the worst thing that can happen in our lives – both personally and professionally. Our kids today may get “prizes” for finishing in every place – but their peers know the truth. Failure is the mark of being less than others – no matter how you sugar coat it.
For me personally, my programming to be perfect, to avoid failure at all costs, was one of the biggest limiting beliefs in my entire life. I was so terrified of the consequences of being less than perfect (which in my childhood were significant) that I spent more time thinking about how to avoid the fail than focusing on the lessons that all of life – including failure – could teach me.
It’s only in the past few years, as I’ve explored the instinctual and learned programming that limited me and my world, that I’ve come to appreciate, and celebrate, the powerful lessons inherent within failure.
That’s why I know the opportunity that’s waiting for all of us when we shift our beliefs and responses to failure.
From Failure Sucks….
We’re programmed on so many levels to avoid failure – even if it means sticking to a situation that isn’t exactly great.
To our ancestors the consequences of failure were severe. If you failed on the hunt for food – you and your fellow tribe members starved. If you failed in defeating a charging beast – you died. Failure was the ultimate negative result for our ancestors – so our brains were programmed to avoid that result at all costs. Fast forward to modern day and those anti-failure triggers are firing on full force. In the midst of super- stressful times, human instincts trigger continuous survival mode responses whenever we feel the threat of failing – even though we aren’t at risk of life and limb. Add to that the negative connotations applied by our society to failure and you get big time programming.
We live in a dynamic, changing, ever evolving time. With everything around us shifting and shifting again – the need for new and innovative thinking and approaches is greater than ever before. We must shift in sync with, or ahead of, our world – if we want to create breakout success.
Our resistance to failure prevents us from truly breaking out into the innovative and new. Instead of viewing failure as an opportunity to learn and grow, we view it as, well, a very bad and undesirable thing. After all, who wants to try something new and fail in front of all your peers?
…to Failure ROCKS!
I think it’s high time we consciously redefined failure.
I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve worked with clients who were on the brink of amazing innovation, only to remain stuck in the mundane of something much less compelling – thanks to the fear of failing. Without that fear – in most cases these same clients could have been rock stars instead of turnarounds.
Failure is no longer the thing to be avoided at all costs, if it ever was. Failure is the opportunity to learn, refine and go forward stronger and better than ever before. Thanks to failure – we can all learn to excel!
Think about your ownbusiness situation. Have you ever tried something and failed, then refused to try again?
- What if you were too early in that trial, ahead of your market that now has caught up with you and is ready and waiting for you to go there again?
- What if the last time – when you “failed” – you actually learned what you needed to learn so that you can now be successful?
- What if everything has shifted and that failure is now ready to be a huge success, if you’ll only go there again?
With a few simple shifts in our programming – we can all put failure into the position it deserves…
Failure is the Path to Success!
In my new world, failure is to be appreciated, studied and honored as a chance taken, an innovation created and a new idea to be celebrated. So I failed the first time – I can learn and do it better the next time around!
As managers – we can instill a corporate culture that celebrates failure and puts it into the proper perspective. How? Try these three shifts.
1) There is no failure, only feedback. This is a fundamental belief shift. It’s at the core of many human programming techniques including NLP. It’s a simple shift when we take it seriously. For every failure, less than expected result, disappointment and more – consciously shift your thinking to embrace the failure as an opportunity for feedback that can and will make your next effort a breakout success.
For example – take my own first foray into speaking for corporate audiences. I hired a guru to help me package and market myself. About six months into that experience – I learned that the guru was self proclaimed and in fact – clueless. Everything I’d done was wrong, and I was a big fat failure. I let that get to me for a while – and I gave up on my speaking business. Even though it was what I most wanted to do and people told me I rocked it.
Fast forward a year – when I met someone who asked me point blank why I wasn’t speaking to corporate audiences with my oh-so-timely message. I said the “fail” word and my new friend whacked me up side the head. She was right. I didn’t fail forever – I only failed for that moment, primarily because I was doing the wrong things based on a person who was way behind the times.
I picked myself up, revamped my thinking and well – today I’m back on track having learned so many lessons from that initial failure. All I had to do was shift my thinking, embrace that failure and it’s lessons learned and get my moxie back. We all can do just that!
2) Celebrate failures and share the lessons learned – loudly. Failures are the dirty little secrets of our businesses. Most of us only speak about them behind closed doors in soft whispers – not wanting anyone to know of that mistake, less than stellar result or just plain bomb that we thought was our next big thing. This approach is not the path to breakout growth – in any business.
So often we learn more from our failures than we do from our successes – especially when we take risks, step into new ideas and processes and just plain breakout into the new and unknown – fearless and focused on learning instead of winning.
Instead of burying the failure in the depths of the corporate legend vault - celebrate it within your company and do it with gusto. Celebrate the new steps taken, the lessons learned for all and the opportunity to do better the next time. Focus on all you learned from that initial attempt – from the new market information, buyer preferences and product updates to the shifts in your marketing and sales approaches that can (and will) bring future success.
I once had a client whose CEO publicly discussed their failures in employee meetings. Yes, he discussed their successes as well. But he knew that by making failure the platform for learning – he’d create a more open and innovative culture. He did just that. By sharing mistakes from all sides of the business, lessons learned and more – he created a culture that thrived and a business that just kept breaking new ground. Why? Because there was no fear of failure. Yes, everyone knew the business had to be a success overall. But taking risks as a path to finding new opportunities was supported and upheld as positive behavior within the organization – even in failure – as long as lessons were learned and everyone applied them to move forward together.
3) Expect Failure and Ban the Blame Game. In any innovative business, failure will happen. If you’re not failing – you’re not pushing the envelope far enough. Failures can be expected and managed for minimal impact on your ultimate results. Instead of failing at that big new product launch – fail during the small, private testing so you can learn, evolve and shine when the big time comes. It’s not that hard to expect and manage failure – when we shift our perspectives.
The end of the Blame Game has to be part and parcel of an acceptance of failure as part of a normal business cycle. Blame and “witch” hunts are the side effects of a culture built to punish those who take a risk and fail. They serve no positive purpose and in my opinion are one of the biggest reasons companies don’t break out into new and innovative thinking. Who wants to risk a change when you’ll be swarmed by the Gestapo if you’re anything but successful?
Great leaders know that managed failures are the path to big successes. They also know that blame is for the ego of others – and not for the best of the business.
One of the best CEO’s I ever worked with shared a simple truth one day. His approach was simple. Fail five times for every one time you succeed – if you want to keep growing. How’s that for a flipped perspective?
The Bottom Line
Failure can be a platform for growth – when we shift our negative perspectives and definitions that are associated with failure as the big bad nightmare none of us want to experience.
You don’t have to look far to find famous failures that become big successes:
- Stephen King was rejected over 30 times before his first book was published. We all know how that failure impacted his future…
- Albert Einstein was labeled as mentally handicapped as a child. He couldn’t even read ’til he was seven. When he finally graduated from University he couldn’t;t find a job because he was dubbed as lazy and dull. Uh huh.
- Walt Disney was fired from his first job with the media because he was thought to “lack imagination and any new ideas.” He also started and bankrupt numerous businesses before this “failure” transformed into the man we all know and love.
- Steven Spielberg was rejected by USC’s theater program on three separate occasions. He started another college program then dropped out. He only returned to finish his degree 35 years later in 2002. So much for that admissions process…
- Fred Astaire was turned away after his first audition with comments including, “Slightly balding, not that attractive, can’t sing, can perhaps dance a little.” He kept that note with him to remind him him of his failure – and his tenacity that never let him give in.
Failure is not forever. Nor is failure to be feared.
When we embrace failure for the powerful feedback mechanism that is can be – we can and will create breakout opportunities! What failure can you celebrate today?