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Embracing Failure for Success

October 24, 2011, Ben Willis -

No one wants to fail.  

It’s embarrassing and attention grabbing.  People pay attention when it happens.  Look no further than http://failblog.org/.

And that is exactly the problem.

what would your life be like if you never took that leap of faith to ride your first bike, raise your hand in class with what you thought was the right answer, or interview for that dream job that you weren’t necessarily qualified for?  There are many important benefits to approaching problems with a willingness to fail, these include:

  • Failing to succeed (you stopped trying to soon)
  • Killing creativity (you were afraid to try)
  • Under-performing  (you didn’t think you had it in you)
  • Not moving fast enough (planning to avoid every possible failure has you in analysis paralysis)
  • Huge missed opportunities (you couldn’t see the opportunity thru the risk)

Time for a Change

So, to be successful – individually and as organizations – we need deliberate thinking in place to properly reward failure.

Food for Thought

Build Failure into the Process

Gap stores around the world have dedicated sections of the store that are dedicated to off-loading merchandise at discounted prices, sometimes at a loss.  They have anticipated, in advance, that a certain percentage of their designs will fail, will not be at all popular or will sell far short of expectations, and they have built that into their business model.

Plan accordingly.  The more complex the problem, the more you should expect failure

As Rebecca Costa notes in her book, “The Watchman’s Rattle,” the more complex a problem, the less likely it is that you will nail it on the first (or second, or third, or…) try.  That being the case, you need to anticipate that the rate of failure will increase with the level of complexity of the problem you are trying to solve.

Reward Failure, especially in more Innovative Processes

Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” Creating the world’s first light bulb was not an obvious or easy process; it took lots of trial and error (Imagine if Thomas Edison had given up after a few failures).  Think to yourself, are your organizational behaviors encouraging or discouraging trial and error?

Put People in the Right Jobs & Trust Them

Each of us has different sets of skills and competencies. As well, we all have different strengths and faults.  Organizations need to recognize this and adjust their jobs and promotion schedules accordingly.  Some people, for example, are more naturally geared for thought-leadership while others are geared for people-leadership so our job structures should not mandate that, to “move up” in an organization, individuals take on (larger) teams of people in a management capacity.   Models like this tend to ask managers to be creative, visionary and strategic while at the same time asking creative people to excel at people management roles, potentially diluting the potential of both (and introducing unnecessary opportunities for failure).

So “Fail Fast” -- and move on!

There are two ways to get across town – create the perfect plan that optimizes for every red and green light, or get going and turn when you reach a red light so you keep going.  In Agile Development, this idea is captured in a mantra that says, “release early and release often.”  This is to say, you are going to hit issues, so find them and fix them fast early in the process so you can move on towards success!

How can Saba Help?

Saba’s collaborative applications, including Saba Cloud, helps organizations innovate faster. Through bottom-up idea generation, Social feedback, and knowledge sharing, Saba Cloud allows for organizations to focus on both the individual and the organization as a whole. This creates a culture of motivated, aligned, and engaged employees. Check out “The Ask” video on the Saba Cloud page to learn more about what Saba can do for you.

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