• 3 leadership tips for building your resilience 4.0

    A different perspective on failure


A different perspective on failure

31 July 2020

Imagine participating in a videocall, seeing the faces of all the other people popping up and confidently exclaiming ‘hi all’. To no avail apparently, because nobody heard your Oscar nominated greeting, although they did see your mouth move. “We can’t hear you”, “Are you still on mute?”, “Try another microphone”,” Have you tried turning it off and on again?” Their good advice comes blasting through your headset and suddenly you understand how grandma must have felt during that  long session of explaining how she had to push the red button to hang up the phone. Talk about a fail…

We have all been there. You’ve tried something new, but it didn’t work out the way you had in mind. Even a manual isn’t failproof, a fact that’s especially true when assembling an Ikea closet. But we all need to broaden our horizons and learn how to do things better in order to live long and prosper. Definitely now in these times of crisis, where high uncertainty makes it extra important to build resilience and to add to the number of options in your pocket. 

How can we build an economy that’s more resilient and stronger than the previous one? No one really wants to return to traffic jams, high stress levels and burn-outs, do we? Rest assured this will be a process of trial and error. But don’t let the fear of failure keep you from achieving greatness. So let’s get this process started! 

Tip #1 Failure or iteration?
‘If (wo)man defines a situation as real, it is real in its consequences.’ - Thomas Theorem

Your interpretation of an event dictates how you will react to it. In other words: if you tried something that didn’t work out and you interpret it as a failure, you are less likely to continue the process of creating a success. On the other hand, if you see it as just another iteration to learn from, it becomes part of a journey. 

Use this time in quarantine to change how you think about failure. Take a routine activity like sending an email, having breakfast or going to the store, and write down 20 things you can change about that routine. How would that improve the action(s) performed? Change 1 (small) aspect in your chosen routine each day and reflect on what worked and what didn’t. Repeat this process the next day. You’ll see it will get easier, as you can build on what you’ve already learned from the previous days. Soon you’ll find a whole new way of operating!

Tip #2 Plan for failure
Make failure part of the plan. It is and will always be a normal, even essential part of doing business. No company or person ever accomplished anything worthwhile without taking in the calculated risks of failure when experimenting with different innovative options or solutions. Besides, it will not only speed up your learning process, it will also help you to stay five steps ahead of any competition.

Experimenting or ‘purposeful failure’ isn’t for the faint of heart. A day of hard work can feel very unproductive after discovering your experiment doesn’t quite work. This adds an extra layer of pressure to an already stressful situation and as a result we often just skip it by going for the only solution at hand.
Yet if done right, testing different options cheaply and fast is a sure way to gradually build resourcefulness and creativity, securing long term benefits as a result. What better way of integrating anything into a way of working, than to consistently plan for it?

Elements of creative planning

  1. Prioritise and focus on a limited amount of problems to solve
  2. Assess the degree of uncertainty and set clear boundaries for the problem
  3. Create time by eliminating unimportant or non-urgent tasks – e.g. use the Covey Quadrant
  4. Allocate a fixed time (e.g. 2 days) to discover options and to test – fail – repeat 
  5. Select the most feasible option for in-depth testing (e.g. with a feasibility matrix)
  6. Plan reflection time (e.g. a retrospect) and share the lessons learned

Tip #3 Support your local failure
Some people are inventors by nature, they thrive on trying new things, failing and learning in the process. Even for them it’s scary and sometimes downright discouraging. Imagine how it must be for those who are naturally risk averse! So visibly support people with great ideas and those who take the (calculated) risk, not just with words but also through action!

Next time a team member proposes something, build on that idea by starting any reaction with ‘yes and…’ instead of ‘no because…’ or ‘yes, but…’. Even better: turn it into a game! Every time a team member says ‘no’ or ‘but’ they get a point. The person with the most points at the end of the meeting has to clean up the meeting room or get everyone else a coffee. There is nothing like the element of play to get the creative juices flowing and to lower the barriers for participation significantly. Bonus: it makes work so much more fun!