Do you often feel like your team is playing it too safe? Like they worry more about making a mistake rather than discovering a novel solution to a unique challenge?
When team members are afraid to venture out of their comfort zone, processes can suffer and become outdated, products and services tend to follow trends rather than set them, and people can get complacent and stop growing and learning.
Playing it safe is a direct result of being afraid to fail. Even worse, when failure isn’t accepted in an organization, people get defensive and worry about covering up mistakes. Fear of failure in the workplace stifles growth, creativity and the full expression of self and ideas and ultimately cultivates a CYA culture.
While most of us do everything in our power to avoid failure, here are several reasons why and how you can be willing to fail more often.
We learn from failure in very powerful ways.
Every “failure” leads us somewhere and teaches us a valuable lesson. Think back to your hard-won lessons that came after making a mistake. How strongly are those memories seared into your brain? And how have those lessons served you today?
When we show up authentically every day, willing to learn from failure, we can build trust and contribute to the psychological safety required of a learning culture. A learning culture is essential to succeed in business these days. Without it, we don’t innovate and we don’t grow. When we don’t grow, we go out of business.
The perfect plan won’t work unless it’s executed.
When we are unwilling to fail, we become paralyzed, overanalyze, waste time and take less action, for fear of getting it wrong. This means we get fewer opportunities to try things out and course-correct.
Being unwilling to fail robs us of precious opportunities to iterate and get it right. Even worse, it often means we will fail even to start.
Avoiding failure doesn’t actually decrease our chances of failure, it amplifies it.
When organizations don’t allow and embrace failure, it only increases the absconding, secrecy and shame around failure—it doesn’t get rid of it.
Think of Boeing’s "culture of concealment" around the 737 Max plane that led to the horrific consequences of two fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019. If an organization doesn’t allow failures, it has no visibility of real problems when they arise and, therefore, no power to fix them.
It can feel vulnerable to admit our failures, but as a leader, the more we model this, the more we can allow others to do the same and create a healthy, productive culture of accountability and ownership.
Failure builds character.
According to Dr. Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, “character is what allows you to reach the top and stay there.”
In her book, Dweck introduces the importance of cultivating a growth mindset over a fixed mindset. A growth mindset sees mistakes as necessary learning steps, not as an indicator of ultimate failure or a reason to give up.
When we allow ourselves to fail, we’re building resilience and resolve that allows us to carry on with our goals and dreams despite the missteps or challenges that come our way. The ability to fail and keep going builds character. And character leads to success.
How is "failure" handled in your organization? Is it seen as an opportunity for learning and growth or handled with shame and blame?
Knowing what’s at stake and what’s to gain, how do you want to approach failure?