We’ve Failed to Address Failure Correctly

There is a lot of information out there on failure these days. As innovation and creativity rise in prominence, failure has found its place in our regular conversations as well. It has been well established at this point that failure is part of success, and that innovation and failure can go hand in hand. In fact I am getting a little sick of people telling me that “failure is OK” and “don’t be afraid to fail”. Is this a new concept for some reason? I don’t think it is.

Failure is part of innovation and creativity. And yes, we do have failure involved in success. As leaders and managers, should we expect some failure? Sure, I think that is fair. The major issue lies in what we really mean when we talk about failure. You can fail along the path and still reach the destination, can’t you? That is significantly different than failing to reach the destination all together. I think we need to step back from the whole “failure is just part of the game” chatter for a minute and realize a few things:

1. Failure Sucks: Talk about a demoralizing experience. Sure winners should get past failure, but failure isn’t fun. At least it’s not for people that value winning and success. I don’t know about you but I want winners on my team, and winners hate failure. It just sucks to experience.

2. Failure is Expensive: Last I checked, failure hasn’t gotten any cheaper. When we fail, we waste all sorts of resources. We loose time, we waste money, and we most certainly expend energy that we won’t get back. How about your relationship or trust capital? We probably loose some of that too. I get that we can learn from the failure experience, but I don’t think its wise to claim that the benefits of failure always surpass the costs. Failure is expensive – often more expensive than anything we might gain in knowledge.

3. Failure Kills Momentum: Today’s business environment is a lot like a football game. Things are moving hard and fast, and momentum is king. Success today will often be found ridding the the wave of momentum. What kills momentum? Failure. Pretty straight forward.

I believe what is most important for us to understand is that there is a significant difference between failure on the journey and failure to reach the destination. I am OK with some failure along the path, and I think this type of stumbling is to be expected. We are all far from perfect, and mistakes are going to be made. At the same time, I know I want a team full of winners. I want a team full of people that find success, build momentum, and repeat. Conversations on failure are great, but can we please all admit that there is nothing fun, good, or rewarding about ultimately failing to produce.

I’ll take the people that love winning and despise failing. Expect to win. Play to win. Never give up.

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