Why does even the mention of the word “failure” send most corporate Leaders, CEO’s, Board of Directors, Mothers, Friends, Coaches, into a tailspin of panic? Hearing this word spoken aloud usually results in a yucky feeling in the gut, a tightness in the chest, maybe sweating palms and a racing heart. As solely an idea or forethought, it literally evokes a physical response. 

Well I’m here to make a bold claim. If we could change the mentality and reaction around failure in our workplaces, societies, homes; we could change the world. 

Before I start putting together an employee’s annual performance review; I send them a pre-assessment to complete. It gives them an opportunity to speak to what they’ve accomplished that year (or not) and point out anything that they want to make sure I know or remember. My favorite question is: “What have you failed at this year?” I go on to explain. “Failure is not a bad word. It means you are trying something new.” Think about it. If you haven’t failed at something in the last week, month, year, decade, LIFE … you are NOT challenging yourself; or anything for that matter. You are playing small. You are existing only within the confines of your comfort zone. I get it, I’ve been there, and living this way feels yucky in my gut. 

Most people reject the idea of failure because they cannot stand the reality that people will judge them, or that it might expose the perfectionist facade that they have worked so hard to  build. Here’s a question to ask yourself: whose opinion is more important? Theirs or yours? Your opinion of yourself is the only one that matters.

Failure does not define who you are. It does mean that you did something brave; that you challenged the status quo, that you dreamed, and planned, and reached, and landed slightly off the mark (albeit sometimes it looks like a massive crash landing). But most importantly; it means that you LEARNED something. So pick your ass up off the ground, dust yourself off, apply what you learned, and TRY AGAIN. Because the world needs more dreamers, risk-takers, and crash-landers. 

Where could we take our businesses, our homes, our relationships, our government if this was born and bred into our culture? Imagine the possibilities if we all just stopped being terrified toddlers sucking on our security blanket and took a freaking risk now and then (or even once … ever).

Some companies get it. Google actually rewards its employees for failure. Do you think they’d be where they are today without the big ideas from the badass risk-taking culture they’ve created? Imagine this in your workplace. “Google employees are publicly applauded by their co-workers and their supervisors for their failures, and are often rewarded with time off to contemplate what their next project will be.” 

If you haven’t already, look up how Formula 409 got its name and how many times Edison tried again after his electric lightbulb experiment went all sorts of wrong.

One of my favorite stories is that of the Founder of Spanx, Sara Blakely (a personal thank you to her, by the way, for changing my life in cocktail attire). She tells the story of what her family’s dinner-time conversation sounded like. “My Dad used to ask my brother and me at the dinner table what we had failed at that week … If I didn’t have something I had failed at, he would actually be disappointed.” I remember the first time I heard this, my brain went, WHAT??!!! It’s actually OK to encourage your kids to fail? YES! As Sara learned from a very young age, you don’t have to think about failure as the end, “failure for me became about not trying, instead of the outcome.” It’s safe to say that this kind of thinking paid off for her. 

I think we can all agree that change is needed in our workplace, our culture, our society, and our world. If we can’t figure out how to get comfortable with F-ing things up now and again; we’re never going to solve the BIG problems. The world doesn’t need a multitude of perfectionists. The world needs problem solvers, risk-takers, “scary as hell, but I’m going to do it anyway, because it MIGHT work” people.

Failure is not the end. It’s the means to the end. It’s the means to new ideas, pushing the boundaries, reaching, growing, and ultimately succeeding. What if every time you failed, you just pushed on and told yourself, “Awesome. That’s out of the way. Now I’m one step closer to success.”

If Leaders and Corporations could drive this type of mindset; imagine the growth, the competitive surge, the innovation, the CULTURE OF KICKING ASS that this would breed. If people could be creative problem solvers, think bigger than themselves, and exist with the mindset of “what if it worked” instead of being terrified that the price of failure equals the loss of their job, their reputation, etc.; what could the world look like in 10 years?

Quote from Sarah Blakely from “Business Insider”, Kathleen Elkins. April 3, 2015

Quote on Google: Blueprint Creative Jan 8, 2018

November 6, 2023


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