If you’ve been around leadership circles very long you’ve learned the importance of celebrating small wins. What about failures?
Celebrating failure creates environments where people dare to try. If all you do is punish failure your organization will always choose the safe path. You’ll stagnate and die.
Find something in failure to celebrate.
“Forgive and Remember,” Bob Sutton in Good Boss, Bad Boss.
Celebrating failure includes rejecting finger pointing. When a project that you authorized fizzles, accept responsibility and honor those who worked hard but failed.
Celebrating failure means you focus on lessons learned.
“Fail fast, fail cheap, and move on to the real winners,” Ian MacMillan and Alexander van Putten.
Some might say, “If you celebrate failure you’ll get more failure.” However, I think if you celebrate failure in the right way, you’ll get more wins.
Obviously not all failure should be celebrated. However, not all failure should be punished, either.
How can leaders celebrate failure in ways that creates more wins?
When should failure be punished rather than celebrated?
I have always advocated the concept of learning from every experience, whether it be great, good or not so hot. I’m also a great advocate of the saying, “there’s no such thing as failure, only new lessons”.
Great post and please keep em coming 🙂
Always love it when you drop in. Thanks for the quote, “there’s no such thing as failure, only new lessons.”
I’ve been thinking about the tragedy of a life (or an organization) so afraid of failure that they launch out to try things. A life of could have beens… So sad.
As a leader and team player, accepting responsibility in front of the team, honoring the hard workers, analyzing the false assumption, the underestimated possibilities that led to failure will help them understand the experience and yet use if for future successes, it will develop them as individuals and as a team and help them see life as it is, a series of failures and successes.
This reminded me of the quote of Thomas Watson, Founder of IBM saying “Double your rate of failure, that’s where you will find success”.
Thanks for the enlighting post,
Great seeing my Syrian friend.
You packed a lot into your comment. The expression “analyzing false assumptions” really jumped out at me. What a great way to get the most out of failure.
Thanks for the quote you left.
Ghandi tell us that one should measure success by the number of wins but rather by the effort put forth. I believe the only failure that should not be celebrated is the one that occurs because of lack of engagement and participation. Conscientious and dedicated effort regardless of the outcome should always be celebrated. “If I fail 10,000 times, I have learned 10,000 ways to not do it” (Edison). Failure with effort and resolve should be looked upon as courageous, daring, and innovative. The culture of the organization is critical when it comes to gauging failure or success because depending on that “cultural blueprint” (Joe Tye) the strength of creation and growth will either reign or as you correctly put it stagnation will undoubtedly occur. The latitude of failure is arguably one of the most important determinants of success in an organization. Just take a glimpse back through history and one quickly understands and sees all of the scientific and technological advances that would not be with us today had failure not been an integral part of the inventive process. The real value in assessing and recognizing failure is the message that it permeates throughout the organization encouraging everyone to dare and “proceed until apprehended.” (Joe Tye-All hands on deck).
When I think of our current responsibilities it makes me respect all the more your time and perspective.
Sadly, I didn’t learn about honoring the effort while learning from the failure until I had wasted many opportunities. Honoring effort is such a great truth.
Interesting you mention Joe’s Book “All Hands on Deck.” He’s graciously sending a copy which I plan to review in the future. Your implied endorsement makes me all the more enthusiastic to get a look.
LF note: Dr. Al Diaz is a featured Leadership Freak contributor. His bio page with picture will be up soon. If you’d like to learn about the business Al leads go to: http://www.harbinclinic.com/index.cfm. I appreciate the contribution Al makes.
Hi Dan… Great post. I too am a big fan of learning from mistakes. I employ the Jim Collins approach with my team and conduct “autopsies without blood”. Its a great way to look at a screw up as a team and extract the lessons learned. One of my former colleagues used to bring his team together over a glass os scotch on Friday afternoons and they would share horrible client moments (all with the view of having some laughs but learning from mistakes. All the best!
A good word from you is an encouragement to me. Thank you.
Love the idea of chilling out while discussion “horrible” moments. It sets a tone and, I think opens the door for learning.
All the best,
Why would you not want to learn from mistakes? And yet “celebrate failure” is oddly threatening in many organizations. As you wrote, Dan, they think you get what you celebrate.
I am baffled by this, but we need to honor resistance. Maybe the message should be “celebrate boldness” or “celebrate calculated risk taking” or “celebrate learning.”
Just as any business that tries for zero bad credit will fail to achieve its growth potential, so it is with any organization that tries for zero failure. Occasional failure indicates you’re taking risk. Each leader needs to decide what the “right” batting average is, and not strike out too many times.
But zero strike outs? A loser’s game.
Thank you for taking time to comment. I appreciate your contribution to the conversation.
I’d been mulling over a provocative title for this post for a few days. I wanted it to be uncomfortable yet not so far out that it was nonsensical.
I love your suggestions re: celebrate boldness, very cool.
The baseball analogy works.
All the best to you,
Mark is a featured blogger on Leadership Freak. You can find his business website and blog at: http://fastgrowth.biz/. Here’s to a guy who regularly gives back to the community.
Indeed, as a professional Coach I’m often faced with clients who have reached the realization that they have achieved little of what they wished for because they stopped at the “wish” stage, frozen like a rabbit in the headlights by the fear of “but what if I fail?” The problem is that, by not taking any action at all, the lock in the failure anyway and create their own self-fulfilling prophesy.
In my opinion, to risk nothing is to gain nothing. Failure isn’t about doing it and not succeeding, its about not daring to do it.
Love what you do here my friend and I really will drop by more often.
More power to your keypad 🙂
Two shots in one day… Rock ON! You know I love learning from you NLP types 😉
I’m running out to “fail forward.” Sorry I forget who said that.
All the best,
When should failure be punished rather than celebrated?
Failure should be punished rather than celebrated, whether the failed party is an individual or a conglomerate, if that entity’s focus in dealing with the failure is protecting themselves and their image–if the entity has no interest in or is actively and arrogantly oblivious to a) the effects of the failure on whoever was supposed to benefit from the product or service and b) the learning opportunities inherent in the failure.
Failure should be celebrated, again whether it is an individual or a huge business, when it brought the failed party to a point of self-awareness and willingness to approach the task at hand from a more informed perspective, and a perspective from which they are willing to try a different approach (or jettison the project is the project itself is flawed).
There are so many great quotes about what we can learn from failure; I imagine some of them will turn up today. In Seth Godin’s blog “Failure is an event” (http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2008/10/failure-as-an-e.html), he says, when you see failure as a learning event, not a destination, it makes you smarter, faster. I like that idea, and I liked your post today Dan!
Your observation re: those who can’t celebrate failure are “protecting themselves and their image.” Ka Pow!
I’m having so much fun with this conversation that I’m afraid readers might get the idea that celebrating failure is encouraging people to fail… of course thats not the case. And of course, arrogant people who run off and do their own thing without organizational alignment and then fail should be canned!
Thanks for bringing Godin to the conversation. I’m jumping on the Godin bandwagon for this conversation. 🙂
All the best,
Paula is a featured blogger on Leadership Freak. She regular gives her time and shares her perspective. Her blog is at: http://www.waytenmom.blogspot.com/ Thanks for all you do.
Unhealthy culture=’bosses’=errors with blame, shame, finger pointing with leadership by fear and waiting for the axe to fall.
Healthy culture=’leaders’=consistent celebration of attempts and failures (and of course successes) with support, concern, positive recognition and connection to VMV & L (vision, mission, values and legacy) with leadership by service and eagerly anticipating the next opportunity.
Does the failure ‘expectation’ perhaps needs containment or framework of sorts? We have tyrannical leaders and we have slothlike people who work only for the money and could care less about getting it right the first time or anytime. “Oops, I hung up on the customer another failure to celebrate.” While that is a bit pathologic, both of these types would usurp the intent and purpose of celebrating failure.
To celebrate failure in organization or culture requires advance planning as most initiatives do. One great way is to do a ‘pilot project’ and openly acknowledge that it may fail, but we hope not. A pilot project might be a discreet (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) event or new service.
We may base the pilot project on customer/partner feedback, employee suggestions, current leadership flavor of the month (ouch) or a newly established evidence-based or evidence-informed practice that we have just become aware of.
Such ‘newbies’ are often met with resistance, perhaps fear, and the other standards related to change. So, leadership can acknowledge the resistance, fear, etc., at the ‘get-go’ and still actively support and endorse such an effort.
The key here is actively support, not just lip service. Resources allocated along with all of the Project Management, QI and/or Lean processes rolled in as well. Gotta be able to measure it somehow to know it succeeded or failed and those measures can be objective, subjective or both.
You took the conversation to a new level by introducing the idea that organizations could plan ahead of time to celebrate failure.
Reminds me of a line from Good Boss Bad Boss by Robert Sutton. “Whats your failure plan.” I think it would take real skill to create a failure plan that doesn’t create apathy.
Real food for thought.
Doc is a featured contributor on Leadership Freak. He consistently stops in and shares his insights. He’s an encouragement to me. I’m thankful for his participation. Read his bio at: http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/doc
Dan, I’m assuming you are talking about the kind of failures that do not result in disaster (such as the moral failure of a pastor). I would think in those cases, failure is NOT an option and there are enough anecdotes of others’ moral failures from which to learn…
I am not sure failure is ever and option as in, “Hey one of my conscious choices is deliberate failure here, at the expense of others.” I don’t think any sane person would *encourage* failure resulting in harm to another being.
Personally, I’m took Dan’s essay as addressing the almost colloquial (or pop culture status) use of the referenced phrase as a motivational tool, that internalized, results in a culture addled by fear of often unpredictable failures. As I mentioned in my response, I believe that clarity of intent is really key.
Thanks for you comment. Truly, not ALL failures should be celebrated. Intentionally robbing a bank and getting caught, for example. In addition, contrary to anecdotal folk lure, some failures are final.
You bring an important side to the conversation.
All the best to you,
With some things, intent is everything, and Dan, I believe you’ve brought great awareness to the importance of proper intent in celebrating failure.
There’s a similar situation with individuals and anger. Some folks actually think it’s evolved to “not get angry,” when in fact, listening to anger, really hearing its message, and responding with understanding and new direction, is so much more beneficial.
So it is with failure. I am fond of saying asking clients to see mistakes and failures as but “turns in the road.” Sometimes we take a “wrong turn” on the way to an intended destination. Perhaps we get a delay or another cost, but perhaps we also see a new restaurant or scene or person that is of unexpected value, too! If we don’t like the road we’re on, well, we’ve learned some important things, and now have more information to consider when we make the choice at the next turn.
I believe properly “celebrating failure” is one of the few powerful ways to change culture from the “Emperor’s New Clothes” situation to one where appropriate action is taken that could mean millions in cost avoidance, and perhaps more important, accelerated innovation!
I’m reading down through your comment and get to the last paragraph. Being able to celebrate failure in the right way undermines stale stagnant cultures and creates fertile soil for new innovative environments.
I’m glad you stopped in to share your perspective.
Best to you,
Great insights, Dan. Our nonprofit has recognized small businesses/workplaces since 2003 that use employee-friendly strategies that drive business results. One tactic we’ve seen more and more in recent years is the systematic embrace of what they call “fast failure” — recognize failure, learn from it, and quickly move on. (We wrote about one such company in Illinois that does this here: http://bit.ly/a4jNai – another that follows this principle is Phelps County Bank in Missouri.)
But I really like you taking this a step further and arguing that it’s in companies best interest to not just recognize failure, but to CELEBRATE it. And the validity of this is verified in the comments of other readers, who have seen this help in the “real world” as well.
Wonderful comment. Thank you. It’s cool to read your real world experience. Thanks for the back link to one of your articles.
You’ve added interest and value to the conversation.
Failure opens door for opportunity. Repeated success shrinks the door for opportunity. Failure prepares you to take risk whereas success prepares you to be risk averse. So, failure is a bliss whiich one should see as an opportunity to try for next. It tests your capabliity and potentials to take decision for new. I think failures are like battles. After a series of battles, you actually prepare for war. Failure makes you more flexible, resilient and capable of taking risk I think, celebrating failure symbolises accepting failure and acceptace is the key to success. Failure repeats when people do not accept and blame external factor for thier failure. Whereas when people accept it honestly they reinforce their strength and weaken their weaknesses. When people hold responsible others for their failure, they actually do opposite i.e. they reinforce their weaknesses and weakens their strengths. You may not accept publicly but you should accept your failure morally and mentally. One should not dishearten and discourage oneself in failure. Instead look inward, introspect and question what is being taken guaranteed. Scan, modify and cannibalise your plan, tool and resources to pinpoint the exact cause of failure. Dont overlook because it leads to repetitive failure. So, SWOT analysis is good tool to analyse.
To bring more wins, people should celebrate failure to know the causes and its consequences. Simply celebrating failure to show others that you do not care actually shows your hollowness of mind, focus and seriousness. Celebrate to learn from failures not to repeat failures. Failure should be punished when it is repetitive and tarnishing reputation, character and image of people, organisation and society.
Wow! You packed a punch with this comment. It’s filled with explanations of the value of failure.
You hit all the points right down to some ideas about when failure should be punished.
Failure opens the door for opportunity… AND if one does not get discouraged due to failure it actually fuels a passion to succeed.
All the best,
Ajay is a featured contributor on Leadership Freak. I’m thankful for the time and thought he puts into his comments. You can read his bio at:
http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/ajay-gupta Thanks for all you do
Was just thinking some more about the point regarding fear that “celebrating failure” (with any kind of intent) would lead to more failure.
Seems to me that the kind of dreary post-mortems (just look at that term itself!) where folks sit around the meeting, and have a Bosshole (to borrow Sutton’s term) belittle them for “should have beens” is much more dangerous in that regard.
Would like to see “Post Mortems” changed to “Evaluation and New Direction” meeting. Or better yet, “New Direction Evaluation Work” (NEW). :^D
Habitual language change is a part of changing culture, too.
Agree with you 100% M. Petruzzi! One option, while very PC still has some seeds of truth, shift ‘failure’ to ‘opportunities to develop’ 😉
To riff off of a popular saying…
Thoughts color words
Words color actions (and intent)
Actions color character
Character is everything
great topic with lots of great additions.
What is failure – failing to learn? I’ll note a personal situation where i had the worst boss, the worst job and the least achievement in my life. My next job was my best, most successful, most productive, most challenging, etc. I learnt to celebrate not failure but perhaps ‘losing’. As many have commented failing (or losing) is the richest source of learning – so does that mean we all have to leave the jobs we do so well – i hope not it just means we need to push the boundaries a bit more (I wish i could be at your sermon this weekend!) – and celebrate those staff we have who do the same – and every now and then it doesn’t quite work out. all the best, and as someone else commented i love your keypad.
Wow… great explanation of failure. Failure = failure to learn. I’m keeping that one in my back pocket.
Thanks for sharing from your personal experience. It adds richness to the discussion.
All the best,
I don’t know who coined this quote yet “Failure occurs only when you stop trying.” rings true to me. Up until then it is all learning. I do celebrate the lessons learned over my 20 years in business — most especially that I keep trying new things and learning from them.
In the push for innovation, can you imagine what would happen if people didn’t try? In fact, true inventors celebrate every “failure” because that is the only thing that pushes them toward a truly new invention that works.
Of course, there is financial risk associated with for companies and that can be assessed and managed.
Yet it doesn’t change the basic truth that without trying something new you are sure to fail as your current world becomes extinct! “Fail forward to success.” ~Mary Kay Ash (Mary Kay Cosmetics)
I’m always delighted to see your name appear in the comment list.
innovators celebrate every failure.. (step toward success)
Hey thanks identifying Mary Kay Ash… I had no idea.
Best to you,
Kate is a featured blogger on Leadership Freak. She regularly shares her time and expertise for the good of others. She is an encourager and customer service expert. Here website is at: http://katenasser.com/ I’m thankful for all she does.
Failure is failure only if we allow it to be for if we learn from the experience then we have not failed at all.
It’s interesting that when I saw your graphic for this post, I immediately thought of Mythbusters’ co-host Adam Savage who frequently says “failure is always an option”. He is speaking primarily from a scientific perspective, which dovetails nicely with the Edison reference mentioned above.
In my personal experience, the post-mortem analysis is always beneficial to understand what happened and why.
Couldn’t agree more.. failure is always an option. Maybe not a desired one but it’s option. 🙂
I’m grateful you stopped in,
A friend of mine told me a story about his brother. His brother worked in an investment bank. Early on in his career he put through a trade and made a mistake with 0’s. Instead of buying 100,000 he bought 1,000,000. He lost money. He was called to his bosses office that afternoon. He sat at his desk dejected waiting for the meeting.
When he walked into his boss’s office, he was asked “do you know why you are here?”
“Well… I guess… you are going to sack me for losing so much money”
His boss said “I just paid for the most expensive training course there is. I know you have learnt from this. Now, get back out there and keep trading”.
I love his view of the error as an expensive but powerful training course.
Thanks for a real life story. NOthing like a bit of reality to drive a point home.
Thank you for sparking this great discussion about what must be one of the most difficult topics in American working life. I believe that the difficulty resides in large part in how the word “failure” is frequently used to describe our work experiences. Think of how many times we hear “You failed to” — as in:
— You forgot to….
— You didn’t follow directions.
— You didn’t check with me first.
— You didn’t adhere to process.
— You neglected….
If we are conditioned to think of failure in this way, it becomes very difficult to see failure as a path to success, a demonstration of willingness to risk, or an example of the courage to innovate.
Thanks again for inviting discussion.
I’m so glad you stopped in. You helped us see ways that we focus on failure in a negative way rather than using it to build.
Great post. I always used to say to my team, “as long as you make a good decision, I won’t get mad if hindsight shows us the best decision.”
Best way I know to avoid the horrors of avoidance, blame & inaction.