Simon Sinek 

“A boss has the title, a leader has the people.”

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Embracing Failure: Why Falling Forward is a Key to Success

In the relentless pursuit of success, failure is often treated as the unwanted guest, an uncomfortable topic that’s swiftly swept under the rug. Yet, those who have genuinely embraced the path to progress understand an essential truth: failure is not a setback but rather a necessary stepping stone to success.

The notion of ‘failing fast’ has become a popular concept within progressive organizations to such an extent it’s almost become another buzzword to hate. This philosophy encourages individuals and teams to get comfortable with failure, learn from it, and, most importantly, build upon it. The idea here isn’t to glorify failure but to recognize its role as an essential element of growth.

The traditional perspective sees failure as a reason to hold back, but a ‘fail forward’ mindset perceives it as an opportunity to move ahead. This shift in perspective requires a reframing of failure as not inherently wrong but as a crucial part of testing and experimentation.

When confronted with a high-risk, high-reward project, fear often holds people back. It’s crucial to differentiate between fear, an emotion, and risk, a logical calculation. Understanding this difference can be a game-changer, encouraging people to embrace challenges and take calculated risks.

How we measure failure within our organizations plays a significant role in shaping our perception of it. If failure is considered a setback, it instills negativity across teams. On the other hand, measuring failure as a growth metric turns it into an essential aspect of personal and professional development. Reflecting on how and why the failure occurred, what was learned, and how to proceed transforms a stumble or full-on faceplant into a valuable lesson.

As the saying goes, “A mistake made twice is a decision.” If the same failure is repeated, it signifies a missed learning opportunity. However, creating a culture where each failure is seen as a stepping stone propels an organization forward faster than its competitors.

To appreciate failure, we need to redefine it. A result, no matter what, is a result. The pertinent question is whether you would repeat the action that led to the result, and if so, what would you do differently? Understanding this prompts organizations to learn from their ‘big picture’ failures rather than blaming individual errors.

Take, for instance, a scenario where a service is offered for a month or two, only to realize it doesn’t work. This “flavour of the month” syndrome is often seen as a failure, but the real problem often lies in the lack of commitment to the process.

Consider Angela Duckworth’s ‘Grit’ experiment. During the experience, subjects were asked to run on a treadmill at its highest elevation. To the participants, the test was all about seeing who could stay on for the longest. But that wasn’t the purpose at all. The test wasn’t about how long they could stay on in that initial run but who would return the next day to see if they could improve their duration. This emphasizes that a culture focused on the process rather than solely on results fosters greater growth and development in a business.

In the end, change takes time. As a rule, it takes about 90 days to see the result of new behaviour, and many of us don’t persist that long. But those who do, who embrace failure and learn from it, who are driven by the process rather than the result? 

Those are the ones who indeed ‘fall forward,’ transforming their failures into the keys to success.

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