How Not to Flunk at Failure
John Danner and Mark Coopersmith, co-authors of "The Other 'F' Word: How Smart Leaders, Teams and Entrepreneurs Put Failure to Work" and senior fellows at the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship and the Institute for Business Innovation at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business, adhere to the age-old philosophy that you can learn more from your mistakes than from your successes. This, of course, is harder to pull off than it sounds, especially in environments where high performance levels are expected. They write: "It's easy to flunk failure itself and miss the valuable insights it holds as a strategic resource to accelerate innovation, drive growth and strengthen employee engagement."

The authors offered several practical ways one can turn failure from a regret into a resource. First, admit you have had failures. Many decision makers refuse to concede any of their missteps for fear of undermining their status and goals. However, too much emphasis on creating a culture where "failure is not an option" can lead to cover-up and the potential for more costly failures. Second, be sure to ask the right questions when the failure occurs. Do not start with "who was responsible?" But, rather, try and discover the more important "what, where, how and why?" questions as part of a genuine inquiry instead of a witch hunt to assign blame. Third, the authors urge following the lead of scientific researchers regarding how to learn from failure. Scientists expect negative as well as positive outcomes from the experiments they run as part of their research. That is how the scientific method of discovery driven trial and error works. Finally, take steps to make the ending count. According to many of behavioral economists, future expectations are influenced greatly by our memories of how emotionally powerful experiences end. In turn, those endings directly impact whether an organization's fear of failure will compromise its ability to generate the kind of engagement, creativity and innovation needed to move forward. The authors conclude: "Failure is a strategic resource. Like the people you employ, the money you spend or the facilities and technologies you use, it has unique intrinsic value if you're open and wise enough to manage it as such."
Wall Street Journal (10/25/15) Danner, John; Coopersmith, Mark
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