The art of failing can be as nimble as catching your balance on an unstable bike or as elegant as improvising a performance while blanking on stage. Failure is part of life but many of us are wired to approach and deal with failure and change differently. One’s ability to deal with risk and change are measurable behaviors. Some of us naturally are risk takers, shoot from the hip, and with no interest or attention to detail. Some of us are risk adverse and focused on process and details. Depending on who we are has significant impact on our willingness to experiment, to try something new and how we deal with failure and change.
Many of us also grew up conditioned to believe that saying “I don’t know” or “I’m wrong” is a sign of failure. Many of us have also worked in risk adverse environments that do not encourage risk due to the lack of tolerance of mistakes or failure. It’s difficult to say we want to be innovative without the willingness to take risk and make mistakes and to fail. Innovation is about doing something new — taking that risk. Failure and mistakes are part of the equation.
CORPORATE ANECDOTE/EXAMPLE OF FAILURE
One very successful software company’s CEO we’ve worked with at MCG Partners was so passionate about innovation that he openly commended failure, if it meant pushing his team’s boundaries and ability to stay competitive, relevant and grow. He realized he needed a culture that encouraged experimentation, risk and mistakes. He allocated blocks of time for individuals and project teams to do nothing but experiment, brainstorm and try new approaches. Individuals and teams were compensated and recognized with “on the spot” bonuses at employee town halls from the CEO, when something innovative had been provided and was successful. One particular team implemented a new, innovative program with a client that failed miserably. The CEO gave the entire team a bonus at the next town hall congratulating them on their attempt. The same project team 4 months later came up with a new product feature that generated millions of dollars in new revenue. Resilience, determination, moving forward – all key characteristics of this team and the culture being built and reinforced.
HOW FAILURE SHAPES LIVES & SUCCESS
For successful people we always ask, what helped you succeed? Leveraging your successes or learning from your failures? The answer can be some of both, but for most, the lessons of life in failing and/or observing failure provide the greatest lessons. If each of us ask what have we learned from a failure or mistake that had a profound impact on our life, most would find an example that shaped who they became, and influenced and motivated what they care about and how they approach their life.
My own example was that in the late 90’s, after a fast-rising career as a senior executive, I was informed that I was a terrible leader, and my boss and people were right. I was terrific at building businesses, getting results and telling people what to do, but I had no idea of how to coach, motivate and lead people. This feedback and failure transformed my life. I decided I was going to learn leadership, understand what I needed to do to be an effective leader, and dedicate myself to helping others to be successful which led me to start my own consulting firm and become an executive coach.
Learning is change; innovation is change; and failure is the foundation to future success.
All The Best.
Chuck Mollor Executive Coach & Managing Partner, MCG Partners