Innovation demands that you try new things. It demands that you push yourself beyond your previous limits. It requires you to stretch professionally, intellectually, and emotionally. Innovation also necessitates failure.
Failure is Key to Innovation
Trying new things often results in errors, mistakes, blunders, stumbles and even the dreaded #epicfail. It is unavoidable. Innovation and success require that you to risk getting it wrong, on the chance that you get it right. Truly successful people don’t achieve because they take the “sure-thing”, they are successful because, from time-to-time, they make an informed decision to pick the long-shot. They are not paralyzed by the fear of failure, they are energized by the possibility of accomplishment.
As a leader, it is up to you to create a safe space to fail so that the people around you are not afraid to take that risk and are willing to try and create new, achieve more, and build higher. You have to tip the emotional scale in your people so that their fear of failure is outweighed by their excitement for success. You have to give them permission to fail and as with all local leadership it starts with you.
Self-Permission to Fail
The surest way to create an environment that generates and supports innovation and success is to demonstrate the behaviours you want to see in the people around you:
Control Your Self-Talk
You are your own worst critic. Controlling your self-talk…you know the things you say to yourself (sometimes out-loud) is a vital part of giving yourself permission to fail. Rather than beating yourself up over a failed attempt, you must learn to praise yourself on the effort. Congratulate yourself on taking the initiative and demonstrating courage. Ask yourself what you did right and what you will do better next time. Ask yourself how you will use the new information you learned from what won’t work.
Do a Post-Mortem
It’s important to do a post-mortem to ensure that you’ve squeezed every bit of learning you can out of unsuccessful efforts. Every great success has followed a series of failures. What leads to the successful conclusions is the thoughtful analysis that kept the series of failures getting closer and closer to the goal. Without stepping back and asking “Now why didn’t that work?”, how will you every make course corrections? If you don’t identify opportunities to improve – you will never improve.
Build a Process
The most successful people fail early, fail often and build processes around analyzing their failures. They have developed practices to help them better understand why they didn’t achieve their goal. Whether it’s specific questions they ask themselves or enlisting people they trust to provide objective feedback – they have intentionally built a system for learning from their failures. By the way – really successful people do the same things for successes. Asking “Hey, why the heck did this work..and how can I do it again?” can be just as important.
Was your failure really that big? Did anyone die? Most of the time our failures are not life or career ending. Blowing a failure out of proportion does not help in any way. There is zero value from it. ZERO. Guess what, the sun will rise tomorrow.
No matter how small they are, celebrate your wins. When you stretch or push yourself beyond your previous skill set, you should take a moment and really take in how good it feels to achieve. Remember the best motivation comes from self-achievement. It’s more powerful that social recognition or winning “stuff”. Structure your celebrations accordingly. Make sure you praise yourself and take a moment to think about how this success has moved you closer to a life goal. Way to go tiger!
Social Permission to Fail
You are, in large part, a product of your environment. Now while many people use that fact to deflect responsibility from their failures or play the victim card, successful people know that in many ways, their environment is of their own creation. While you didn’t pick your parents, your family or the location you spent your youth – you do now; you do have choices. Even small changes to your environment can make a huge difference.
Choose to surround yourself with supporters. Whether they are family or friends, intentionally choose to spend most, if not all, of your time with people who encourage and support your efforts and who help you recover and grow stronger from failure.
On Twitter, Wil Wheaton sometimes has to warn, “Don’t be a dick or you’ll get blocked”, by which he means if you’re a jerk to him on Twitter – he’ll just block you. Adopt his rule in real life. If someone is bringing nothing but negative energy to your relationship, just stop being around them. Whether it’s on social media or in real life, unfriend “dicks” and disconnect from negative family members. There are 6 billion plus people on this earth, you can find new, more supportive, people to be around.
Remember, support is a two way street. Take the time to help people in your environment with their failures. Ask them open ended questions that help them discover new insight from their failure or at the very least, get some perspective. Leave your judgment at home and don’t try to solve their “problem”. Create safe space for your friend/colleague/employee to explore how they think and fell about their failure. Your job is to offer the tools (good questions) to help them pick through the wreckage which they will use later to improve their attempt.
When it’s your turn, make sure you ask for help learning from your failure. Don’t let fear or shame get in the way of your progress. Own the failure, tell the story, and be open to feedback.
Failure is Not an Expense, It’s an Investment
As a leader it is your role to build a failure safe space in your organization. You must remove the “expense” label from failure and replace it with the “Investment” label. Failure is simply part of R&D. You can’t get innovation without first experiencing some failure. But you’ll never get to the successes if you don’t create an environment where your people feel like they can try new things and risk not getting things right the first time. This can be difficult in the private sector and frankly almost impossible in the public sector. Failures in the public sector are often sharply criticized. Over time, public sector leaders learn that it doesn’t pay to step outside of the box. This is where bureaucratic inertia comes from and its killing our trust and belief in our public institutions. But that’s a whole other post.
As a local leader, whether it’s at work, home or in the community, how are you giving permission to fail and therefore succeed?