Category: Brand · 5 min read
Learn to Fail Forward
on January 10, 2019
on January 10, 2019
Here’s a hard truth: at some point, you’re going to fail. I am, too. We all are. And that’s actually a really great thing, because it’s an inevitable result of trying something new and growing as a professional.
Failure is a natural part of expanding our boundaries, skills, and business. I say this a lot, because I truly believe it: “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not working. We just try not to make the same mistake twice.” In order to grow, we’ve got to get a bit uncomfortable and take some chances.
But how you deal with your failure makes all the difference. To really move forward, you’ve got to lean into that discomfort and find a way to deal with it. You have to embrace failure and find a way to incorporate room for learning through experience in your business model (even experiences that don’t work out the way you want). It’s a mental reframing process, and it can drive big results for business.
Instead of wallowing in your mistakes, learn from them and move forward. Here’s how to do just that.
“If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not working. We just try not to make the same mistake twice.”
Make it Into a Learning Experience
Making mistakes is a hard, but necessary way to learn. Instead of berating yourself over it, take what happened and store it under the “things that didn’t work” category. Understand why you failed, and start thinking about how to do it better next time.
This makes me think about athletes. They learn from their failures on a daily (or weekly) basis, and they take those experiences and channel them into their practices, so they’re prepared for their next game. They remember what happened previously, and they work to come up with a different solution and outcome for the future.
Own Your Failure
This is a big one. Don’t shy away from taking responsibility for the failure. It’s easy to blame someone else for what happened, and not think anything of it. But part of exceptional leadership is owning it when you mess up. Take the hard route and take responsibility for your mistakes. Don’t let someone else take the fall.
Writers and authors deal with failure a lot. Take J.K. Rowling, author of the famous Harry Potter series, for example. Publisher after publisher rejected her first Harry Potter manuscript. At the time, she was divorced, without a job, had no money, and had a child to look after. But she didn’t give up. Eventually, a publishing house published her book, and the rest is history. She owned her failure, pushed through it, and her books became an international success.1
Write it Down
After you own it, make sure you don’t forget what happened. Write it down. Think of it like a record of what you learned and what you want to change for the next time. Make it something that you can reference in the future and keep it accessible or easy to find. Get it out of your head and onto a piece of paper, an online notes document, a formal report, an Excel spreadsheet, or an email to yourself (whatever works for you).
When a Similar Situation Arises, Remember What you did Before
This is where writing it down can come in handy. Part of failing is learning what you did wrong, so you don’t make the same mistake twice. When it comes time to make another important decision, remember what happened and what went wrong in the past, to ensure your success moving forward.
A great example of this comes from Thomas Edison. He failed more than 10,000 times before he successfully invented the electric lightbulb. At one point, a reporter asked him if he ever felt like a failure. Here’s what he said: “Why would I feel like a failure? And why would I ever give up? I now know definitely over 9,000 ways an electric lightbulb will not work. Success is almost in my grasp.”1 That’s inspiring. He knew how he had done it wrong, now he just had to do it right.
Let Other People Know
Is there a learning opportunity from the failure that you can share with others? Is it something you should warn them of, so they don’t make the same mistakes? Being vulnerable and openly sharing your mishaps takes strength, and shows great leadership. People appreciate transparency, and it can actually help build relationships and loyalty. If the situation leads to a powerful lesson, let your employees or partners know and share your story, so you can help them not make the same mistake.
Have Sympathy for When Your Employees/Partners Fail
Your employees and partners are also going to fail. When they do, take it easy on them. Recognize that they aren’t perfect, either, and help them fail forward, too. However, make the distinction between failure as a result of growth efforts, and failure as a result of laziness/incompetence, and deal with them differently, as well. Talk with managers and employees to understand what happened, and if it was a failure of trying something new, or a failure of incompetence. If there’s a work ethic problem, it might require a separate discussion with the employee to solve the issue and move forward together. Obviously, this requires time and effort on your part, but it can be worth it to get everyone on the same page.
Your employees and partners are also going to fail. When they do, take it easy on them. Recognize that they aren’t perfect, either, and help them fail forward, too.
Make it a Part of your Company Culture
But don’t just stop with yourself. Make failing forward a company-wide practice, so your employees and partners adopt this mantra, too. Let them know that it’s okay to fail and make mistakes, as long as you learn from them. Failing shows that you’re working hard, trying new things, and taking risks. If they fail, help them get back up again and keep at it.
Failure doesn’t have to be a negative thing. Instead, view it as an opportunity to grow and get better. If you do that, you can’t actually fail.
1. Wanderlust Worker. “12 Famous People Who Failed Before Succeeding.” 2018. Web. https://www.wanderlustworker.com/12-famous-people-who-failed-before-succeeding/
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