Whitney Johnson on Putting Failure In It’s PlaceOriginally shared on Harvard Business Review
You’ve started a company and it goes belly-up. Or you launched a new product and not only does it fail to sell, customers actually hate it. Or you get fired.
What happens when you dare to dream, make that dream real, and then fail?
As I have grappled with my own this-just-may-break-me failures, I am increasingly convinced that dreaming must be a process, an engine of experimentation. As we practice innovating we are propelled up a personal learning curve — and we begin to accomplish our dreams. But implicit in daring to disrupt the status quo is daring to fail. As we learn by doing and do by learning something will eventually (and inevitably) not work. As former DARPA official Ken Gabriel said, “An important part of disruption is having the nerve to take on a really big failure.” At this critical juncture in the process of dreaming, we must decide how we will approach failure: Did I fail my way into a black hole? Or is failure a tool that will help me innovate more effectively?
For those inclined toward the latter, consider the following:
1. Acknowledge sadness. When you start a company, launch a new product, or take on a job, there is the fantasy of a simple linear world: you will work hard and your dream will happen. And then it doesn’t work. My whales of fails have ranged from not making cheerleader during high school (mortifying at the time) to bombing a speech in front of hundreds of people (still mortifying). Then there was the experience of being fired and backing a business that imploded. Apart from feeling mortified, I was heartbroken. I had been all-in. I had envisioned a future in which I would achieve a goal, perhaps be hailed as the conquering hero. And then I wasn’t. I’ve learned it is important to grieve. When we sublimate the sadness, we risk losing our passion, an essential lubricant for the engine of innovation.
2. Jettison shame. If you let a failure become a referendum on you, the millstone of shame will drown you and your dreams.
Read the full story on Harvard Business Review.