With many children returning or starting school this week, my mind has turned to how we learn. In particular, how and when we learn to fail.
At early years, our kids learn that getting something “wrong” is bad. Our brains are wired to listen to fear more than reward and we play it safe. So, it is no wonder that when we get to the workplace we arrive with a strong aversion to failure.
We are surrounded by systems that demand perfection. We want customers to have a perfect experience – 100% of the time. We want products that are perfect or we want a refund. We want shareholders to get healthy and ever growing dividends. We want trains to run on time. Our “reality” TV “actors” have white teeth and wake up perfect hair. Our Facebook poses must be perfect and natural. Even our bananas have to be blemish free.
Yet the enduring adage of successful innovators is to fail fast, fail often, fail forward, fail cheap, ….
Learning to fail takes self awareness, self control, reflection, humility, resilience, humour, graciousness, vulnerability, patience and an appetite for risk. Sometimes, failure can be served with a side dish of anger, frustration, self loathing, shame, guilt and sleepless nights.
Our reality is that we are caught in a conundrum – working in a system that generates operational excellence to be successful today but knowing we must innovate (and fail) to be successful tomorrow. We have to be ambidextrous. It takes wisdom to know when to be “perfect” and when to fail.
- When did you last fail? What did you learn? How did you respond?
- Who have you shared your failures with?
- Do your team know when they can fail? What do they think your response to their failure would be?
- What have your taught your kids about failure?