Failure: n. you only say you like it.
People are big about talking about making failure a part of their process. Phrases like “Fail fast, and learn from it” abound. But what happens when someone actually fails?
I mean, really fails.
Like loses that big deal everyone was gunning for, or receives the email from a client saying they are discontinuing a partnership, or does something to ruin a client relationship.
What happens then?
It depends on your view of time and resources spent. Did you incur a labor or opportunity cost, and that’s all? If so, you may be pretty peeved, either at yourself or homeboy/girl a few feet away who just dropped the ball.
But, what if you view the “lost” money or the expense as an investment into your company, or better yet into your team members? What if all of the nice sayings aren’t the final answer? Besides, failing fast and learning from it really is more about fixing the mess you made, and thus, not even a real failure because you still can fix or redeem it. Remember, we are talk about real failures, the kind that require apologies and long conversations for clarity.
What if not only time was accounted for in the process for failure, but you really placed your money where your mouth is, and expenses were budgeted into the process as well?
Could it result in a culture that really welcomes, or even expects failure?
What if we provided low stakes situations for ourselves and our employees where we could experiment and fail in small doses, learning to be agile and bold, but also calculated, precise, and thoughtful? What if we didn’t cringe at critique but welcomed it?
What would that mean for your organizational culture?
The bottom line is that no one actually likes failure, none of us sit around in a team huddle and celebrate our failures. But what truly does make the difference is your perspective on failure and what it means for a project and for future projects.
Time is never wasted, it is only reallocated.
Just like matter, time is never destroyed, never wasted. It is just reallocated or redirected into personal development, refining of processes, learning from mistakes and failures, and finding a better route for the future by going the long way around on the front end.
Often, efficiency is the enemy of innovation and depth.
Time spent, in what feels like failure, is not by any means the end of the story. Meaning the five hours spent chasing the metaphorical rabbit and his trail, or finding how far down his hole goes, is not time wasted. It is likely that a number of paces back you arrived at a greater idea than you had when you began.
Similarly, actions that precipitate towards failure also are not the end of the story. You have been given an opportunity — to improve, to think and discern more strategically the next time, and to manage relationships like the fragile, beautiful things they are.
What would it look like to foster a culture where we are quick to be gracious and apologize, slow to become impatient or stressed, and ready to discuss our mistakes and welcome critique?
What would it look like to not expect our teammates to have it together, but to trust that they will get there, that they will figure it out and be better for having wrestled deeply?
It would look like a culture that celebrates success while also welcoming failure. It would look like a team that trusts one another and is agnostic as it pertains to doubt. It would look like a culture that is resistant to cynicism and jaded vision, refusing to just give up on their team and their clients.