Encouraging Failure


Should we encourage failure?!

If we try something and fail, what is the result? For people who are motivated and clear on their goals, not achieving the goal the first time is of no concern. Instead, they ask themselves, “what did I learn, and how can I apply that to my next “try” to make success more likely?” And then, they try again.

Even genius requires failure. For example, Thomas Edison’s successes were not without setbacks. He said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Imagine applying this approach to a problem at your work. Imagine “trying” 10,000 times without success and still looking positively for potential solution 10,001! Fortunately, most of us aren’t trying to develop a new technology that will change the world. For most of us, 1/100th of this persistence would be more than enough to be very successful and make a significant difference in our organizations.

3 Keys to Turning a “failure” into a success:

  1. Be “Crystal-Clear” on the goal – write it down, make sure all the team members affected know it, and understand why it’s important (if they personally benefit, even better!)
  2. Go into new initiatives looking for ways to improve them, not trying to rationalize problems that come up. When you encounter a hiccup, you’ll expend your energy and creativity on improvements not dwelling on the problem.
  3. Stick with it. Often you’re much closer to the solution than it appears.

Ultimately, I’m not really encouraging failure, am I? I’m encouraging effort, and creativity and persistence. If we encourage these in our organizations, we must accept that we’ll have failures and we must embrace the learning the failures provide. Alternatively, if we want to avoid failures, we can stop trying, and our results will reflect our efforts. 

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One thought on “Encouraging Failure

  1. Listening (or reading) Edison’s biography is inspiration at its best. I’ve been plunking my way through it for the past 3 months or so, and I actually hit upon the quote that you mentioned, about 3 weeks ago. Besides a good belly laugh at his reply to his friend’s suggestion that thousands of failures must me discouraging, as you noted, it is the positive approach that stands out for me. One more reason to try again with a new approach if the first one didn’t quite pan out.

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