Some “experts” go around saying failure’s great. After all, they repeatedly mention, Edison had 999 failed filaments before the one that illuminated the first light bulb.
Let's not kid ourselves: failing professionally sucks, particularly during trying times. As most of us are NOT Thomas Edison, the 10th or so filament might in fact be career limiting / bending / ending, disturbing, and downright infuriating.
So I don’t say failure’s good—I tell my clients it CAN BE a good START, provided it's done well.
Years ago, we then-leaders of Charles Schwab & Co. got corralled in a hotel function room during a quarterly meeting. The “expert” gave us a task: walk up to each other, throw our arms up, grin like we meant it, and holler out “Yay! I failed!!!”
We were told this was to stress that we needed to be much more open to failure in our organizations. After it was over, there was much chuckling and eye rolling.
Why? No one believed it. After all, I DID “Talk to Chuck”—I really did, because he was my boss’s boss. And referring to a high priority business I was running, he told me: “Peck, just don’t screw it up.” Although his name was on the door—every door—I don’t think he got the memo that failure was a great thing.
That said, there’s truth in the madness. I see so much butt-preserving behavior these days—unwillingness even to do anything that won’t please others, that a little more failure pheromones would go a long way.
After all, if you’re intensely averse to the IDEA of failing, to laying a big goose egg, or coming up short, then you’re not going to be generating new things, nor creating an atmosphere where people can come up with innovative change. You’ll be fostering more of the same. Do what you do, and you’ll get what you got.
What, then, is a great way to approach failure? I suggest three things:
1. Have the right attitude. Yes, failure sucks, AND it’s a great start.
2. Fail small. No one has the appetite or budget for big ticket / large failures.
3. Failing while doing something poorly is always bad. Doing your best is "great start" failure. It's up to you and your team, and you know it if you're doing it or not.
Try those on for a start, and let me know how and why failure was a great start for you. And do me a favor: don't say, "Yay, I failed!"