I am someone who sleeps like a baby, but last night was different. I kept tossing and turning and after barely managing to sleep for a couple of hours, I woke up with a headache. Reason for this being, I had a bad day yesterday. I failed. I failed to deliver a session as well as I had planned it. The incident yesterday got me to thinking
why does it hurt to fail?
After ruminating over this for half the night and a several hours in the morning, I figured how the term ‘fail fast’ is predominately heard only during leaders’ speak but followed so little. I spent some time introspecting the possible reasons why this happens. This may hold true for some of you, while some of you may have the escape velocity to surpass failure and move on. I hope you fall in the latter bracket, but if you don’t, I am hoping that you and I can learn together and leverage the below points to enable failure to achieve success.
All my life, I have understood success as taking a step (or steps) to attain a desired result, and failure simply as the steps taken which do not lead to the desired result. Failure is nothing more and nothing less. We, however, live in a very competitive world and associate failure as a permanent blot on our competencies. We link it to feelings of shame and it acts as a blow to our ego and self-esteem. It is not the failure that is hurtful, but the self-imposed interpretation of it as personal deficiency is what is hurtful.
This event made me reflect on the efficient ways to handle failure instead of letting it define me, in my own eyes.
There are a few key learning takeaways about failure that I would like to share here. This is to help us both – you, the reader and me, to learn to cope with failures better.
Just like any event, failure should also be treated as an event and therefore, should be as impermanent as any other event. While it is important to extract lesson from the failure, it is also essential that we don’t take it personally and move on to trying again.
David Kolb in 1984 published the ‘Experiential Learning Cycle’ which has 4 stages of learning through experience. (In fact, much of the work that we do in our organization is based on this framework.) The first stage is encountering a new experience or situation (including failure). We should take some time to reflect on ‘what’ happened, which is the second stage. The third stage involves abstract conceptualization which is understanding ‘how’ the experience could be applied, which gives way to the fourth stage of active experimentation which is applying the learning from the experience.
Knowingly or unknowingly, we use the “experiential learning cycle” with everything that we do – from learning to ride a bicycle to staying away from hot objects, so why should failure be treated differently?
More often than not, we don’t risk taking a new path in life whose outcome is beyond our control. We get habitual to familiarity and hence do not explore newer ways of doing things or trying out new things. The greatest risk of living a comfortable life is that while we may fail less, we will definitely not experience newer success. Also, as failure, success too is impermanent.
Only when there is a culture of openness, everyone is comfortable with sharing and receiving feedback (and help). At out workplace, we have a process of CHECKOUT (Client, Helicopter view, Elaboration of program, Command & Control, Key learning outcomes, Openness, Understanding and Thankfulness) after every workshop which helps us in reflecting what went well and what we could do better in an open forum that erases all ambiguity, reinforcing the idea that success will only come through if you allow yourself to fail.
Leaders (and team mates) must facilitate challenges so a person has room for experimenting. Also, an atmosphere where the courage to embracing failure and learning from mistakes is valued drives people to keep evolving.
In conclusion, I only ask myself (and so should you) if I were to fail to deliver an impactful session, again, will I take the chance? Will I risk my short-lived ego for a greater sense of achievement that is arduous, far-fetched and difficult? My answer will be an affirmative – Yes.