The Art of Failing Responsibly – 5 Steps

Failure is necessary to achieving success. Embrace it!

What does it mean to fail responsibly? And, why would we want to?

I was recently made aware of an innovative and inspiring management style from a CEO of a small tech company. Every 2 weeks, the organizational leader would touch base with his teams to commend them on their accomplishments. He would then ask them to share where they failed in the past 2 weeks.

This leader encourages his teams to see their failures as necessary steps to learning how far we can go, and identify the aproaches that do not lead to immediate success. In the long run, if we leave with the lesson, all failures lead to success; if we take the time to inspect and adapt. Furthermore, his approach was inspiring to me as I believe it is a critical step empowering individuals to feel safe to disclose their shortcomings, learn from their failures and rely on each other to help them improve as a team. After all, we can’t possibly know how far we can go until we push ourselves to failure.

Why Fail?

We would be far more successful if we saw failure as opportunities to learn so that we can achieve greater success rather than seeing failure as the inability to succeed. This practice takes time to master. It requires reconditioning ourselves to see failure as part of success, rather than the opposite of the accomplishment.

As I like to say, “Failure IS an Option. Perfection is not.”

After all, as long as you are right, you are not learning. You can’t get it right AND push yourself to new limits at the same time.

Therefore, the greatest lessons truly are in failure. All of those times our elders told us to “learn from our failure” and “the greatest lessons are the most painful” were true; at a deeper level than I first thought. Failure is the only path to learning how much we know, how far we can push ourselves and how much more we need to learn to become successful.

What would our world be like if we began focusing on the opportunities to be wrong? What if we set out each day to push ourselves to fail in order to see how far we can truly get?

How to Fail Responsibly

  1. Fail intentionally

    Identify an opportunity that may be big or small that you can go into ready to fail. This practice can instill a deeper sense of confidence that results from the willingness to take risks and go beyond what you already know. The results of this courage fosters empowerment that is necessary to be victorious when the stakes are high. The more you fail with this mindset, the more confidence you will gain.

  2. Focus on the lesson, not the limitation

    How many times have you failed and walked away thinking, “I am not enough to do that.” or “I should have known that ” ?

    Not only do these statement invalidate the experience and lesson, this limited thinking destroys confidence and breeds discouragement and FEAR of Failing in future endeavors.

    Instead, replace those statements with such statements as these:
    “My courage got me
    “Through that experience, I learned that

    I also encourage journaling your failures as a way to capture the lesson, experience and reflect upon this empowering transformation along the way.

  3. Use the F-word

    Admit “Failure” frequently. The more we use the term, the less shame we have around it. Shame breeds insecurity and insecurity around failing creates a vicious cycle that erodes our confidence and willingness to try new things. As Brene Brown states in her writings, “Shame can only exist in the darkness.” Admitting failure, using this f-word openly while acknowledging the lessons learned turns shame upside down on its face.

  4. Empower and be empowered.

    Share your approach with your closest peers, friend and loved ones. Empowering others to adapt this way of thinking will not only situate you with supportive people, but will also give you the opportunity to encourage others to embrace their failure, which inherently gives unique insight into your own.

  5. Recognize that failure IS an option

    Whenever I suggest failure is an option, at least one member of a team chimes in about how intricate their business is in effort to dismiss the theory because, “We can’t afford to fail here.”

    This is a self-deceiving statement as I would suggest that every organization or team is failing at something, but may just not be safe or willing to acknowledge it. This is far more dangerous than facing failure head on and acknowledging opportunities to improve.

    Additionally, any organization that is truly NOT failing is not innovating at their full potential. After all, companies that are not trying new things and pushing the envelope to innovate will be far less likely to stand the test of time-to-market and technological evolution.

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