Is Failure a Luxury?


We're finally recognizing the value of failure, which is much needed.  But lest it turn into an entitlement, for some, it isn't an option...

"But, is failure — the freedom to fail — really a luxury? In the developed world, we are expect second, third, fourth chances. Stop and think about the decisions most of us have faced and will face. Seldom are they totally, completely irrevocable and permanently life altering." Read on...

Thank you, SmartBlogs

 

 

#Whatif We Valued Trying?

We humans love to divide the world: yes, no; either, or; black, white; true, false; winners, losers; successes,Arianna Huffington, Co-Founder Huffington Post (designed by behappy.me) failures.  Yet little in life is really that nice and tidy, despite how much we want it to be.  And our world is not going in that direction anymore.

Many of us know that new discoveries, the disruptions, the innovations are found in the grey – in between the extremes, by recombining what is out there through And and Both instead of Either and Or.  As someone with a head of black, white and grey hairs, believe me, I live it!

Perhaps one of the most dangerous of these artificial constructs is that of successes or failures.  This has insidiously permeated so many of our systems – especially the language of entrepreneurship and innovation.  We don’t allow a middle or blended path.  When we look at the successful entrepreneurs, how many of them were successful the very first time? How many had overnight successes that truly were overnight, instead of years? Very few. 

What if we start talking about Tryers (which obviously means people will go to the opposite extreme of Non-Tryers) instead of just winners or successes?

What if we started encouraging and supporting those who try, over and over, be it the same or a different venture. 

What if we helped the Non-Tryers to understand why they didn’t try? Perhaps it is fear, time, who knows… but perhaps we could develop a support structure to allow them to become Tryers, in their own time?

What if we started to infiltrate our education system with tools, lessons, examples, opportunities to Try so that our children could become Tryers at earlier and earlier ages.  And What If we rewarded them for it? And What if we rewarded our teachers for teaching smart Trying?

While a full societal adoption of the Trying construct certainly will take time, you can start now! There are many ways you can start embedding Tryers into your organization’s lexicon.  So What If you, tomorrow, asked one of your people to Try and What if you back her or him up when she/he raises objections for why something couldn’t be done?  What if you just started with that?

Thank you to @mattmurrie for helping me more fully embed “What If” in my lexicon.

Let Them Fail

This guest post is by fellow mentor/advisor to the Social Innovation Fellowship (formerly C.V. Starr Fellowship) Robin Pendoley, Founder/CEO of Thinking Beyond Borders.  This is a must read for innovators and entrepreneurs of any type.  Please read on! 
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“I have failed.”

This phrase opened Natasha Blackadar’s summer blog post about her first social venture. Warning: This is not an inspiring story about how resilience and perseverance created a dramatic recovery.

Nope. Natasha’s venture failed. Spectacularly. And that’s a good thing. Perhaps the most important part of this is that Natasha has recognized, accepted, and courageously made it plain to the world. Fortunately, this young social innovator lives on to fight another day, stronger for the experience.

As a Social Innovation Fellow at Brown, Natasha spent this past school year (her sophomore year of college) building a social venture that would bring college student volunteers to support a local development agency in a small South African community. As part of the fellowship, she received funding, coursework in theory, and mentorship. This process consumed her life, shifting the focus of her learning from theory to practice. Being a social entrepreneur and leader of her venture became her identity.

When she arrived in South Africa, she quickly realized that, despite months of communication and planning, the community partner did not want her or her team of student volunteers there. Within just a few days of the start of a 10-week project, she became concerned for the safety of her team. Natasha came to the conclusion that the relationship with the partner organization could not be salvaged. To try to continue would be disruptive to the community and put undue strain on local relationships.

Natasha pulled the plug.

As any resourceful project manager would, she utilized her network to create new opportunities for her team elsewhere in the country. They completed service, had a cross-cultural experience, and learned about international development. But, Natasha’s vision of a sustainable venture that would provide assistance to the community and learning opportunities for students has died.

Reading her blog posts makes it clear that Natasha was heavily invested in this venture. Yet, she did what so few social entrepreneurs are able to do – recognize a failed project and move on.

There has been a lot said recently about the importance of recognizing and accepting failure in social entrepreneurship (Jonathan Lewis in Huffpo, Failing Fast by Anna Ebbessen, Harvard Business Review). Not only can it result in better ventures, but accepting failure is crucial to ensuring we don’t create negative impact. “Resilience” seems to be the new golden ticket to social entrepreneurship. To succeed, social entrepreneurs must try, fail, and repeat until they succeed.

Outside of college programs, accepting failure is not easy to do. The social innovation sector is filled with perverse incentives. Ventures are rewarded with funding and exposure for visions of delivering grand scale and fundamental system change, all with a business plan achieving sustainability within 18-24 months. These aren’t perverse because they aren’t great aspirations. They are perverse because they reward early stage ventures for taking enormous risks.

There are risks for every stakeholder. The entrepreneur invests not just their time and energy, but often their whole identity in their venture. The funders invest resources in vetting, funding, and supporting the venture. Partners commit their time and energy to collaborative efforts. These stakeholders risk losing both their resources and their clout if the venture fails.

But, it is often the most vulnerable stakeholder group that carries the most risk – the community to be impacted. Social ventures target populations with a fundamental need like nutrition, health care, or education. Ventures that fail to deliver positive and productive impact risk squandering the efforts and resources of the community.

That, however, is not the worst-case scenario. The worst-case scenario is that, despite good intentions, the venture negatively impacts the community. And, because the rest of the stakeholders are not incentivized to recognize and accept failure, the venture continues delivering this damage unabated.  

What no one tells you in this sector is that the venture is not truly failed until the social entrepreneur deems it so. As support dries up, the social entrepreneur can continue to iterate, try new approaches, and keep the venture alive – even if it should be scrapped.

There are two conclusions to draw from this story:

  1. For the sector to be viable and maintain its focus on creating meaningful and positive social impact, the incentive structures must change to support entrepreneurs to recognize and accept failure.
  2. Programs like the Social Innovation Fellowship are crucial to preparing future social entrepreneurs to be effective. While the funding, studies, and mentorship are key components of that learning, providing a safe space to fail is crucial.

 

Robin Pendoley is the Founder & CEO of Thinking Beyond Borders, a nonprofit that designs and leads

 international gap year programs for students to prepare for a lifetime of commitment to creating meaningful social impact. Robin also serves as a mentor for the Social Innovation Fellowship (formerly known as the C.V. Starr Fellowship) with over a decade of experience in international development theory, education, comprehensive internationalization, and nonprofit management.

It's Time We Develop A New Relationship With Work

I've been following award winner, internationally acclaimed writer and speaker Tanveer Naseer for a while.  His wisdom and insight, put into language we can all understand and act upon, is a gift.  He generously let me post on his site earlier this month and I'm privileged to return the favor.  You can find more of Tanveer's sagacity on leadership and the workplace here, follow him on twitter @TanveerNaseer, and keep up on what he's thinking here.  Thank you, Tanveer!

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It's Time We Develop A New Relationship With Work 

Have you ever noticed how when someone tells us how they've been really busy with work, we automatically interpret this as being a bad thing?  Certainly, no one associates having a lot of work to do with sunshine, love, happiness or any other positive experience.

In many ways, this is a natural product of both our schooling and work experiences, where we're not guided and supported to use our genius, creativity, and talents in order to do the work we should do.  Rather, what is the more common experience is being funnelled through a system that puts us into neat slots like gears in a complex piece of machinery. 

When it comes to work, we've come to accept the concept of 'no pain, no gain' as being the proper route to success and prosperity.  That we need to tough it out in the hopes that – someday – we might finally be able to do what we want to do because we've 'paid our dues'.

To make matters worse, even if we are lucky enough to do work we enjoy, that sense of satisfaction tends to be short-lived as we're rarely given the space to grow and evolve, with the freedom to make mistakes without being blackballed a failure and someone no longer worthy of development or the attention of those in charge.

And so, we inevitably hunker down, hoping that someday our ship will come in as a reward for all the sacrifices we've made, and we'll finally get to live the life we always wanted and do the work that we've dreamed about doing all those many years ago.

No doubt this is why so many insurance and retirement planning companies rely on images of retired couples lounging on a boat off some tropical island, or taking up salsa dancing lessons before enjoying a night on the town. 

In each instance the message is clear – we can live the life we really want . . . but only after we've committed to giving the best part of our lives today to doing work that might not be what we had planned or should be doing.

In this light, it's not too surprising why we've created a negative connotation around the word 'work', whether it's as a verb or a noun.

Of course, there's a truth that we need to come to terms with if we are to truly succeed and thrive – both professionally and personally – and that is that we're not making sacrifices.  We're making choices.  Bad choices.  Safe choices.  Choices that those around us tell us are the 'smart' ones to make, but are often not the best ones for us to choose.

I know I've made a few of those in my past – choices I made to help pay the bills while waiting for that opportunity that I really wanted to show up.  And that's where we fall into the trap, because while we may have accepted these choices as temporary, they soon become the work we do and the life we live because we stop looking for that path that we were meant to take; of reconnecting with the work we were meant to do.  We give up on such dreams in favour of pragmatism and familiarity; of sticking to what we know instead of what we need.

To be clear, this isn't about simply 'doing what we love'.  It's about learning to love what we do because it provides us with a sense of fulfilment.  That our work becomes more than simply a means of survival and living, but a way for us to employ our talents, our genius, and our creativity and drive towards something meaningful and purpose-driven.

While the growing levels of anxiety, fear and stress we see in today's workplaces are partly due to the prevailing uncertainties surrounding the global economy, it is also a manifestation of that disconnect between what we do and why we do it

And it's becoming clear as we move further into this century that this approach to our careers and lives is no longer sustainable; that we've reached a tipping point where people can no longer be expected to feel happy or fulfilled by working to live.  Instead, we need to shift the paradigm to one where people live to work.

Of course, that doesn't mean that the sole reason for our lives is our work; that answering the typical question 'what do you do for a living' serves to define the sum total of our existence.  Rather, it means that we need to be more mindful in ensuring that the work we do is aligned with our internal compass that guides us to finding our purpose and our ability to contribute meaningfully. 

That as much as we're helping our organization to attain its shared goals, we're also performing work that helps us to achieve a sense of purpose – that what we contribute matters and is meaningful beyond our sphere of influence.

In the Great Pyramid of Giza, Egyptologists have found carved in the stone blocks the names of some of the work teams that helped to build this monument.  The carvings were never meant to be seen by others.  Instead, they were made simply to demonstrate the workers sense of accomplishment and purpose that they derived from the simple, but back-breaking work of hauling these large stones into place.

Their example serves as a testimony that we don't need to 'have it all' to feel a sense of fulfilment or achievement.  Rather, all that's required is our willingness to no longer play it safe or waiting until later to commit our creativity, our passions and our dreams to that which not only creates meaning for others, but which also instills a sense of purpose and fulfilment within ourselves.

Tanveer Naseer is an award-winning and internationally-acclaimed leadership writer and speaker.  He is also the Principal and Founder of Tanveer Naseer Leadership, a leadership coaching firm that works with managers and executives to help them develop leadership and team-building competencies to guide organizational growth and development, while ensuring they remain focused on what creates a fulfilling sense of purpose in what they do.

You can read more of his writings on leadership and workplace interactions on his blog at TanveerNaseer.com.  You can also follow him on Twitter - @TanveerNaseer.

Your Greatest Asset? ROF: Return on Failure

Innovation and failure go hand in hand.  So, what is failure? When things don’t go according to plan or expectations, ending up with unexpected and/or undesired outcomes.  The key is ‘undesired’ – because if they were desired and not planned or expected, that would be great!  But, as we will see, failure is a terrific way to learn.  Maybe we could measure learning as Return on Failure: ROF.  And many of these learnings are intangible, but as the 21st Century is proving, it’s the intangibles that matter.

We’ve heard the phrase “fail often, fail cheap, fail fast” or “it’s ok to make mistakes, just make different ones.” So, can we do a better job of learning from failure?  We’re not built to do this easily, either by learning from others’ failures or our own.  There are many ways to learn from failure, so what I’m suggesting is just one way.

One way we could start learning from failure is through a simple 3-step process (bear in mind, simple ≠ easy!):

  1. Identification of the Failure(s)
  2. Analysis of the Failure(s)
  3. Iterative Experimenting & Prototyping based on the learnings from the failures

So, and check my ‘math’, ROF = Failure Identification + Failure Analysis applied over (and over…) Iterative Experimenting & Prototyping.  That’s the framework (for now).

Failure Identification is proactively identifying what went wrong, what failed.  Systems and processes can help capture this information for sharing with those who need to know now and in the future.  Feedback loops with employees, customers, and suppliers are also important (and who else?).  Most companies are complex entities which make getting and sharing information difficult.  Also, most cultures don’t tolerate failure too well so we learn to play the blame game.  And of course, there are a lot of other reasons we’ll get into in further posts.

Failure Analysis is not playing the blame game but discovering the Why.  When a plane crashes, the NTSB goes over every inch of the site.  They don’t blame; they use a formal, objective process to discuss, analyze and learn.  Try a model like this.  Be objective, don’t personalize or blame (not as easy as it sounds).  Organizations also succumb to confirmational bias; we become inured, not realizing we’ve fallen into that trap.  The “blame game” makes doing the necessary forensic work challenging because it can be hard to trust our colleagues.

Iterative Experimenting & Prototyping involves creating a well designed experiment so we can limit and test the variable (ideas) and prototype.  Test where we think we could fail, try what does and doesn’t work.  The more we experiment, the more we learn, the greater the chances of success.  Do small, inexpensive experiments and prototypes (they don’t have to be grand).  Do virtual and thought experiments.  There are many ways to experiment and prototype today that are not expensive or lengthy so try it.  Why don’t we? How many organizations are structured for experimentation? Not many (remember the scientific method? Bet not).  And culturally, we don’t incent, reward, recognize our people to experiment – we incent being right, not trying to be right!

What do you think? Does this make sense? Are you trying to learn from failure in your organization?  What have you learned that you’ve been able to apply?

Don't use Best Practices, Just Practice!

One of the central tenets of 20th century business was "best practices." Let’s dissect this veritable oxymoron:

  • Best: highest quality, standing (at a point in time, place and context)
  • Practice: a habit or custom (noun) or to do repeatedly to acquire proficiency

Admittedly, and importantly, there are things to learn from others successes and failures. But one of the big mistakes companies make isadopting “best practices” instead of adapting them (to their own culture).

Companies will succeed in the 21st century by out [best] practicing their competition to exceed their customers’ and employees’ needs - by turning practice into a verb instead of a noun.

Those who develop a core competency in experimenting, prototyping, learning, applying, iterating – from success AND failure, will be the ones who provide the most meaningful, valuable offerings to customers and employees.

That’s what I call practicing! And that’s not an oxymoron.

What can you start being the best at practicing tomorrow?