Face it: Failure stinks. No one I know likes it. And even the most successful and creative people I know, don’t celebrate things that turned out poorly.
Yet a mantra that has emerged in the last five years is to “celebrate” failure. Really? Celebrate?
While I get, on some level, the reasoning to encourage people to take a risk and actually “do something” or to even possibly do “something big” – the notion of celebrating failure is not, what I believe, is in anyone’s best interest.
Working in and with organizations, I fully recognize the great extents to which people will take to avoid looking “less than” or “foolish” or “incapable”. I also fully recognize the games that are played (some with intention and some unconsciously) to garner the coveted raise or promotion and at times, survive the latest reorganization.
Anything “less than” often is hidden, buried, ignored or rationalized away. I’ve seen multi-million projects that were abject failures be allowed to linger on, all to avoid embarrassment. I’ve seen amazing amounts of money, time and effort be put into a failing project in an attempt to prop it enough to get it over the finish line, only to declare “done” and then allow it to wither away.
And so celebrating failure can then become one more excuse. One more “I only did what you were encouraging me to do” lament as performance is reviewed.
I totally understand that vibrant organizations need innovation and creativity more than ever, and that innovation and new ideas are inherent with risk. Some will make it. Most will not.
Removing Detrimental Organizational Behaviors
Given that, there are certain behaviors that are detrimental to organizational sustainability today. These include:
- The inability to see or seek new opportunities
- Playing it safe individual behaviors that undermine the whole
- Only taking on small, safe, or incremental projects
- Failing to learn quickly with feedback from initial attempts
- Avoiding solid analysis of the results of a “less than” effort due to embarrassment
Adding Healthy Organizational Behaviors
Rather than celebrating failure, I suspect what is truly needed is a host of healthy behaviors that include:
- Contributing new ideas, which are by design, unpolished, unproven and risky
- The willingness to step outside comfort zones and try new things
- The deep understanding that innovation is experimental – and that each small failure brings you closer to a success
- Persistence in the face of obstacles
- Transparency about what worked and what didn’t
- Meaningful and deep learning from current misses that enables faster and better attempts in the future
- Comfort with ambiguity and uncertainty
And so, let’s celebrate creativity and contributing new ideas. Let’s celebrate experimentation, observation and rapid learning. Let’s celebrate bold steps forward into the ambiguous unknown future. Let’s celebrate persistence and pivots and progress.
And when we fail, we celebrate picking ourselves up, reflecting on what happened, and starting anew – smarter, more resilient and more likely to succeed this time around.