Failing Your Way to Success
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In a recent television interview, Whoopie
Goldberg described how she got her first one-woman show in New York: Whoopie was
performing her nightclub act and (the director) Mike Nichols was in the
audience. He came backstage and offered to create a show for her in a Broadway
theater. Whoopie said she didn't know if that was such a good idea. What if she
were lousy? Mike asked if she'd ever been lousy before and Whoopie said "Sure!"
His response was, "Then it's no big deal. You'll just be lousy on Broadway."
To me, that reply was brilliant!
Fear of failure is one of the biggest
obstacles to success. Yet every major achievement is preceded by many failures.
It's the lessons you learn from your mistakes, how well you apply those lessons
to future endeavors, and how quickly you bounce back, that matter in the long
Great leaders know this is true. Tom Watson,
Sr., the founder of IBM was often quoted as saying, "The way to accelerate your
rate of success is to double your failure rate." One of my clients, a savvy
executive in a Fortune 500 company agrees: "I tell my folks to make at least 10
mistakes a day. If they're not making that many mistakes each day, they're not
trying hard enough."
But, oh my, how we human beings hate to
fail. So sometimes we need a little encouragement to overcome that fear. Here's
where leaders can step in . . .
The general manager of an insurance company,
concerned that her salespeople were so afraid of failure that they hesitated to
take even well calculated risks, took action at a sales meeting. She put two
$100 bills on the table and related her most recent failure, along with the
lesson she had learned from it, then she challenged anyone else at the meeting
to relate a bigger failure and "win" the $200. When no one spoke up, she scooped
up he money and said that she would repeat her offer at each monthly sales
meeting. From the second month on, the manager never again got to keep the $200,
and as people began to discuss their failures, the sales department became more
successful, quadrupling their earnings in one year.
"Failure is not a crime. Failure to learn
from failure is," said Walter Wriston, the former chairman of CitiCorp. But it
can be difficult for people in an organization to have a genuine discussion
about failure that doesn't include blame or rationalization. To facilitate this
kind of productive conversation, the United States Army developed the After
Action Reviews. AARs are now used by organizations around the world to help
employees learn from their mistakes, prevent future errors, and find new
solutions to problems.
Basically, the AAR process assembles people
who were involved in a planned project or event and asks them to answer these
1. What was the desired outcome?
2. What was the actual outcome?
3. Why were there differences between what we wanted and what we achieved?
4. What did we learn? (What would we do differently next time?)
Organizations looking to increase innovation
are also finding ways to encourage and even reward mistakes. DuPont's Textile
Fibers Division awards a quarterly "failure trophy." The failed efforts must
have been ethically sound, recognized as failures quickly, and learned from
thoroughly. DuPont realizes that insight and knowledge come as much from failure
as they do from success. Understanding what doesn't work may be at least as
important as understanding what does, especially if these errors are revealed
early in a project when few resources have been committed and other approaches
can be tested.
The heart of creativity is trial and error.
Thomas Edison's early attempts to come up with the right filament for the light
bulb were dismal failures. He tried a thousand different materials - with no
success. A colleague asked him if he felt his time had been wasted, since he had
discovered nothing. "Hardly," Edison is said to have retorted. "I have
discovered a thousand things that don't work."
What about you? Had any good failures
About the Author
Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.is an international
Keynote speaker on collaborative leadership and the impact of
language in the workplace.
coach to executives to improve their leadership presence and
Leadership blogger for Forbes and author of "The Silent Language of
Leaders: How Body Language Can Help - or Hurt - How You Lead.”
Carol@CarolKinseyGoman.com Authors Google+
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2009-11-25 13:36:40 in Personal Articles