Celebrate Failure

Do you think it’s OK to fail? What about your teams, do they feel able to?

I’ve had some interesting conversations with people recently about failure and change. Something I keep noticing is: a perception or narrative that soon enough, things will “settle down.” That change, and the need to adapt to it, is some kind of temporary phenomenon. Just a wee hump to get over before things get back to a safe normal.

Anyone ever budgeted like that? “As soon as we get over this bill/ get the rego paid/ move past this unexpected milestone, we can get back to normal…”

The problem with this kind of thinking is obvious. Because just like there’s always a new expense or issue that pops up to derail the ideal budget, there’s always going to be change and uncertainty in our environment. Whether it happens incrementally or all at once, whether we see it coming or not.

My thoughts: change is only a problem if it feels like loss, and responding to change is only a problem if we feel like we can’t fail.

And failing is, in my book, pretty bloody important. If you’re not failing, you’re not learning. Without actively cultivating the opportunity to fail, you are not actively cultivating progression.

Despite your best efforts, unexpected obstacles or challenges are going to throw you off at some point – so you can either be ready to grapple with them, or not.

Nicholas Taleb talks about being ‘antifragile’ – taking adversity and becoming stronger and better for the experience. This supports the huge body of knowledge on post-adversarial growth.

There seems to be a human instinct to celebrate our success, and feel ashamed of our failures. It’s embarrassing to get it wrong, because we get all mixed up between our actions and our identity. But I believe that failure is an event, not a characteristic.

And if we can shift our mindset to embrace the opportunity presented by failure – to change, learn and grow – failure becomes valuable. And we become antifragile!

How to: Handle Failure Better

  • Get real – You face uncertainty and change from now on. Things are not going to ‘settle down!’

  • Expect to fail occasionally – you’re a mere mortal after all.

  • Don’t expect perfection before getting started – slow action lets down good strategy

  • Equip yourself with the skills to fail well – know how to process failures, learn from them, and use them to get better

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Book your team into a one-day change resilience workshop with me in 2019 while there are still dates left! Enquire here.


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Alicia McKay