Our culture has become increasingly obsessed with perfection. You see it everywhere. It’s pervasive in the entertainment industry, as depictions of celebrities contribute to an unattainable idea of what beauty really is. It also permeates the culture of higher education, as applicants vying for spots in prestigious graduate business programs are often made to feel that an A- in Economics 101 might as well have been an F. But in the business world and beyond, employers and employees alike should abandon their traditional notions of success and embrace the idea that an “F” every now and then isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact (dare I say it?), failure can even be a good thing.
Leaders today are well served to appreciate the positive aspects of failure. The following tips can help us adjust our mindsets and accept failure as a part of the process of success, rather than a defeat:
- Shifting Focus: As mention above, in many facets of our society, the prevailing point of view equates success with perfection. By those strict standards, Edison could have been derided as a colossal disappointment based on his initial attempts (and, thus, you very well might be reading this article etched on paper by candlelight). As Edison aptly recognized, if we ever want to move forward, we have to take chances. Invariably, by taking chances, the best of us will fall flat our faces sometimes. When we do, we have to stand up straight and move forward, taking note of why the last process didn’t work, why the last strategy was not well received, or why the last device didn’t function properly. The lessons learned through focusing on the process rather than just the end result can help you emerge as a risk taker and leader in innovation.
- Get Management Onboard: Particularly in the business world, managers should take the lead in creating a culture where employees are encouraged to explore their creative impulses. If the boss appears to embrace a trailblazing working style, employees will feel comfortable taking risks. But if employers adopt a less enthusiastic approach to innovation, employees will adhere to the status quo, thereby possibly missing opportunities for advancement. An environment where managers furnish employees with freedom to be creative, freedom to take their time and explore all the nuances of the problem, and freedom to think outside the box will undoubtedly translate into fertile ground for progress. Sure, employees who have been freed from the constraints of our perfection-obsessed society may suffer some scrapes and bruises along the way, but if we think of these obstacles as minor setbacks instead of defeats, we can revolutionize the way some companies do business.
- Reward Good Failures: Not only should managers permit employees to experiment in finding solutions to problems, they should also reward creative thought. Even if an inventive idea does not lead directly to the answer to the question, awarding provocative thought can create a whole culture of progressive workers.
- Punish Bad Failures: While managers should reward employees when they fail in pursuing a new idea in a smart, calculated manner, all failures do not deserve praise. To be sure, all failures are not created equally. Failures that result from a lack of proper planning are unacceptable. Failures that involve an abuse of resources should not be tolerated. And employers should take action when an employee’s failure results from recycling old theories that have already been dis-proven. A real leader must understand the difference between a good failure and a bad failure.
- Take Time to Reflect: True leaders don’t just accept failure and move on. Instead, they take time to consider the implications of the failure and why the idea did not work. Never losing sight of the ultimate goal will help you conceive a perspective that views these bumps in the road as a part of the process and as motivation to keep going.
In his role in the self-storage industry, Tim Eyre helps customers care for their cherished belongings that must be put in storage.