“I can’t believe it! we’ve spent countless hours researching, testing different solutions and no one cares”, thought Linda wiping away her tears on her drive back home. After spending several months on a critical software project at work, Linda found out that the project was cancelled: the organization simply didn't see the value and the team was painfully slow in making progress. After brooding over her failed project for a few hours, Linda decides to go for a walk and allow for some reflection time.The warmth of the sun hitting the trees and the soft breeze had an undeniably soothing effect on Linda as she was walking through the woods at the local state park. Returning to her car, Linda thought “Why did the project fail? What could have I done differently?” - I’ll need to talk to the team tomorrow to discuss lessons learned…”
While failure is very common, how we approach failure and what we do when we fail can vary greatly from person to person. Our approach and perspective has a profound impact on whether we learn from it or we get crushed under the heaviness of the negative emotions that come along with it.
Why do we fear failure?
Many times, we avoid taking risks- applying for a dream job, starting a business, participating in a competition or trying something new due to the fear of failure. Famous psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, coined “The Prospect Theory” basically stating that people place a higher value on eliminating risk/loss than on probability of winning. So, in essence we would rather not give it a try than take a risk and lose. How do we go against this natural human tendency and overcome the fear of failure? The answer lies in deliberate practice and taking action in spite of fear.
Are you ready to fail successfully? Here are the 5 elements of a successful failure..
Be ok with Failure
Ever notice that toddlers stumble, fall and struggle several times as they learn to walk and seem unfazed by the multiple falls and failures? At the end they figure it out and before you know it, can not only walk but run; making it harder for you to catch up to them! As we get older, we tend to get conditioned by the environment and become more risk averse. Why is that?- it might be the fear of failure: feeling that it’s going to reflect poorly on you and your capabilities, fear of judgement from others...It’s time to push past that and not worry about the negative impacts of failure and accept failure as a part and parcel of our being and becoming. It’s time to be OK with failure.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts.” - Winston Churchill
Failing Forward- with a focus on learning
Now, being ok with failure doesn’t mean repeating the same mistakes over and over with the hope of getting different results. Focus on making your failure successful by learning from it. Once you get past the negative emotions, set aside some time for reflection and think through what worked, what didn’t and what you can do differently the next time? Consider capturing critical feedback from others who are close to your work and can offer valuable insights. My 10 year old daughter recently spent more than 2 hours trying to bake a layered cake and the cake was less than perfect. Even though she was disappointed with the end result, when I asked her what she learnt and what can be done differently the next time, she quickly came up with some key points. I believe that all of us have the capability to reflect and learn from our mistakes if we channel our energy towards learning and focusing on what we’ve gained, rather than what’s lost. It’s all about fostering a growth mindset!
“Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.” - Dale Carnegie
Fail Often - Be open to challenges
Did you know that Thomas Edison had 1000 failed, unsuccessful attempts before he invented the light bulb? Had he not failed often and continued his efforts, we wouldn’t have had the light bulb in our lives! How do you get better and become successful?- by failing often, seeing challenges as learning opportunities and being open to new experiences.
“I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” ― Thomas A. Edison
Fail fast - Be flexible
Sometimes, we have the tendency to be so persistent towards achieving a goal that we don’t take the time to step back and see the big picture and pivot if needed. Blockbuster is a perfect example for that. When Netflix approached Blockbuster for a partnership, they simply didn't see the value in it and it also meant they would have to pivot and change their business model. Netflix’s disruptive innovation, and Blockbuster’s lack of flexibility to change led to Blockbuster’s bankruptcy in 2010. This concept applies to our personal goals as well and we need to be cognizant of the environment and recognize when to pivot based on the situation.
Fail cheap- Take calculated risks
Being open to failure doesn't mean jumping into the ocean when you don’t know how to swim. The key is to plan for failure and take calculated risks. When working towards a goal, consider playing the devil’s advocate and coming up with multiple scenarios and alternate plans to overcome failure. Every time you take a risk, consider the cost-benefit analysis and ask yourself what’s the worst that can happen if this fails and what’s my alternative. This may sound too generic, but can be applied to any scenario- personal, career and or a business setting.
Here’s my final thought as I wrap up this post. I urge you to think beyond outcomes/achievement. This may sound counter intuitive, but the idea is not to forget about outcomes, rather to put things in perspective and focus on continuous learning and growing rather than just getting to the end point. Finally, as John Maxwell says it perfectly, “Success each day should be judged by the seeds sown, not the harvest reaped.” What seeds are you planning to sow today without worrying about the harvest?