Agnes Uhereczky is a consultant, podcaster and workplace transformer. She is the co-founder of the WorkLife HUB.
Just as Whatsapp and other messaging services have bitten out billions from large established Telecom companies’ revenues, established businesses and sure-fire branches are under threat every day. If it’s not the curly haired guys in a garage, it may be an advertising fiasco, a new regulation, changing technologies, and even ageing population.
Companies and organisations are reacting in a number of different ways to build safety-nets and equip leadership with tools to prevent failure and maximise success. From coaching to intrapreneurship, performance management, agile project management to diversified investments, foresight and perhaps the latest, predictive analytics. But what if there was another way to equip organisations and their leaders to deal with risks and failure?
How about letting them fail?
Our fear of failure is intrinsically coupled with our quest for perfection, as well as fear of the ridicule, of shame, and other negative emotions and consequences associated with how we will be perceived, if we fail. And this fear can be totally paralysing, which is harming innovation, creativity and problem solving.
So where does this fear begin? Perhaps already in school, when the feedback children get is about the number or percentage of mistakes they made. How many words have a spelling mistake or how many calculations they got wrong, or how many names of plants they didn’t remember. And growing up being put on the spot and perhaps ridiculed and shamed for the mistakes you make is, I venture, perhaps not the best way.
Failing as part of the journey
In her TED talk, motivation researcher Carol Dweck, who studies “growth mindsets” explains the difference between the “failing” grade and the powerful “not there yet” grade. If we just inform kids about how much they got wrong, or that they have failed at something, their view of themselves will be about failure. But by giving them the “not yet” grade, they understand, that they are on a learning journey, on a quest, and not stuck at a place of inadequacy.
In addition, by rewarding children with “A”s or whatever the best grade is in your school system, we foster the mindset of short-term gratification, one after the other. This is something that now comes back from employers, who report that Millenials now almost need a daily reward to keep trying and working.
Whereas if schools and parents would be rewarding effort, by praising the process that kids engage in, their endeavour, their strategies, their focus, their perseverance, their improvement, that would create kids who are hardy and resilient. And this is something, that we learn way too late in life, if ever: life is more of a marathon, not a sprint. Just as we learn much later, that we are not failures when we fail. And the quest for perfection, for innovation for success is not futile.
Failing is an essential part of this journey. With every failed attempt the final intended outcome will improve.
Social media is of course not helping, because it still celebrates the flawless, the polished, the perfect, for bodies, minds, careers and successes. We never see the struggle, the doubt, the sweat, or all those times it didn’t work. There may have been a thousand tries, but we only see the one, when it worked out. Hollywood also has a way of wanting to make everything look like an overnight success, whereas it usually takes about 10 years to become an “overnight success”.
Tim Westergren, the Co-Founder of Pandora Radio, an online music streaming and recommendations platform, not only spent 20 years working as a producer and songwriter, he even had to take jobs as a nanny to earn enough money. He was turned down 300 times by investors, and when the company burned through their initial 2 million USD in 2001, Tim Westergren convinced the 50 employees to stay on and work for 2 years for free. In 2011, the company was valued at 2,6 billion dollars as they went public and their 2012 first quarter revenues were 80,8 million USD. I bet those employees were glad they stayed on. But I also bet, that Tim Westergren and his co-founders must have been incredibly close to quitting many times.