October 9, 2017

Get Comfortable with Failures

Needless to say, we’re living in an increasingly competitive, highly accelerated and extremely cautious world in which disruptions happen every day and the never before seen problems are being created on a daily basis.

Given this condition, those who are willing to take risks, step out of their comfort zone and venture into the unknown at the stake of uncertainty will be those who will reap the biggest rewards in turn.

Truth be told, we can never hope to achieve success unless we’re willing to embrace change and risk and discomfort of failure. In fact, I’d say in this era we must be willing to get comfortable with failure to stay relevant.

Throughout our careers, it is crucial that we continually evaluate whether we are letting our fear of failure or for Asian culture in particular the fear of losing face keep us from taking actions or trying new things that can advance us or make the impact we need.

Surely, by taking chances or risks mean failures are unavoidable and not everything you try will work out but somehow that’s they only way that one can ever accomplish anything.

Still, as leaders I know that failures can be perceived as signs of weakness; hence, most leaders hold the mindset that they can never fail. It is unfair to burden our leaders with such expectation especially now that we’re in the disruptive era when rapid changes in technology, communication, and data means that no one person can possibly ‘know’ everything enough that they can never fail. For this, I’d say this weak shared mindset needs to be changed. Rather, we must embrace the facts that if leaders never try anything new, never take any risks, then they can never make any breakthrough discoveries and our business simply stagnates. Also, we need to encourage everyone to stop stigmatise failures i.e. if people do fail, they feel embarrassed, they are likely to miss out on promotions and bonuses, and their professional reputation suffers.

All in all, as a leader you need to do two things: become the role model in embracing failure and change the culture to celebrate failure along with changing the system to fail earlier, faster, and more cheaply.

As leader, you have a critical role to play in showing your people that it is more than okay to fail. Instead, let’s look at it this way: failure isn’t that bad as after a few failures you start to become more resilient to it, then you get more comfortable with it, and be willing to try something else, fail again and you will learn to fail forward not backward.

Also, it’s your responsibility to establish the new mindset of celebrating failure. Make it your organisational culture that everyone celebrates failures for the learning that they bring to find a great solution. In fact, you should be worried if you’re not failing because that means you’re not being innovative enough during the time that innovation is highly beneficial to make your business stay in the market.

I’ve said this a few times already but I think it’s crucial that I mention it more time that when I talk about celebrating failure I don’t mean failure caused by negligent or unprofessional behaviour. I mean failure that comes from trying something different with the intention of finding a better way of serving the customer needs; experimenting, exploring, and finding out what works and what doesn’t.

It’s also important to understand the full implication of the term ‘celebrate failure’. It’s not actually the failure itself that you’re celebrating; it’s the learning that comes from that failure and which moves you closer to the right solution.

It’s important to remember to actually celebrate too. ‘Celebrate’ doesn’t just mean tolerate or ignore failure – it means publicly recognise people for trying something, failing, learning, and trying again. Promote people who do fail and learn over those that play it safe. Some companies even hold parties to celebrate failures – or rather to celebrate moving a step closer to the solution.

Last but not least, another vital step in building people’s confidence to get comfortable with failures, risk something and try a different approach is to encourage them to use fast prototyping and testing with real customers. If you want people to be more comfortable with experimentation, teach them the skills to fail fast, fail early, and fail cheaply – and so succeed faster.

The bottom line is that I know that failures can be discomfort for many. It is difficult to be willing to step into the unknown and take risks, but sooner rather than later you will need to learn (and lead others in most cases) to embrace failures as part of experimentation even when it’s not easy as it’s becoming more of  a necessity and less an option in today’s world.


Ms. Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC (formerly APMGroup) Southeast Asia’s leading Executive, Leadership and Innovation Capability Development Center.

She can be reached by email at arinya_t@new.seasiacenter.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/arinya-talerngsri-53b81aa

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