I should be Allowed to Fail

Posted: January 29, 2014 in Change
Tags: , , , , , ,

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As a change agent, I should be told to fail. In fact anyone doing improvement work should be told to fail. Well, not exactly told to fail. I should be told that I should be pushing the envelope far enough to fail regularly.

If I am always succeeding, then I am not risking enough. Real innovation requires risks. We hear this all the time from the innovation gurus. Real change requires real risk.

Yet we don’t tolerate failure very well, do we? In fact how often are projects scaled back to avoid failure? And how often are the things that get scaled out of the project the most aggressive and most innovative pieces? It’s because perception of success (or rather completion of a project) is more important than real change, real progress.

How do we get out of this mentality? How do we break free?

Perhaps we need to begin by acknowledging that change and risk are linked closely together. And since people perceive change as risk no matter what, you may as well build in enough risk to make real change. Otherwise you are just introducing stress with little chance of impactful change.

So leaders need to embrace failure as a positive possibility. And then need to let their people know this. Of course this means knowing the difference between failure caused by risk taking and failure caused by incompetence. You improve your chances of knowing the difference when you understand the vision and the processes being executed.

I know that’s asking a lot. But you can start small. Be aggressive on small projects where the cost of failure is manageable. Learn to fail well. It’s like learning to lose well.  And remember that you can often learn far more in losing than in winning.

Think of it as research and development instead of success and failure. In development you expect that you will develop things that don’t work. You tweak your way to a good result.

This isn’t some new concept. It’s the concept of being OK with failures that is missing. It’s a mentality and an attitude, not a process, that needs your love.

  1. Dale Anderson says:

    Haven’t a lot of great inventions been the result of a failed experiment on something entirely different than the end product??

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