Stop Failing At Failing

With the rise of digital startups, we have become used to hearing about the need to fail fast and fail often. And we have told each other repeatedly that failure is important, failure is necessary, failure is good.

So why do we resist failure?

Because we are not stupid!

The reality is that despite all the cheap talk about the usefulness of failure, few of us find ourselves in organizations that actually put their money where their mouth is. For example, how often does your boss commend you for failing? Or, does your organization’s performance management system regularly reward you for failure?

No? I thought not.

In the absence of a supportive boss and performance management┬ásystem, why risk your career by failing? Wouldn’t the wiser course be to play it safe, even if it means that you rarely experiment or innovate? After all, curiosity┬ákilled the cat!

While being risk-averse may seem like the safer path in the short term, it is a death sentence for your organization over the longer term. Without experimentation, innovation, and a healthy dose of curiosity, everything stagnates — people, processes, and organizations. And, instead of moving ahead or even just keeping up, they simply fall behind.

As Ellen Glasglow wisely observed:

The only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions.

So if we want to avoid the deadly rut, what should we do? Stop failing at failing and learn to do it better.

There are reliable techniques that help us understand how to fail in smarter ways and how to use those failures to make ourselves and our organizations better. We have learned the value of safe-to-fail experiments, failure targets, and failure parties. But that is only the beginning. At KMWorld 2018, I’ll be leading a workshop entitled From Failure to Fantastic that explores more techniques we can use to get the indisputable benefits of failure without unduly suffering its negative consequences. These techniques are borrowed from a variety of professions and industries, including medicine and oil and gas.

I hope you will join me at the workshop so that we can help each other stop failing at failing.

[Photo Credit: Makunin]