Design Yourself 07: Fail Forward!

This week Sharon discusses the importance of embracing failure. (Fail forward!) Gain distinctions about how to own your own story, what it means to be (and be a part of) a deliberately developmental organization, and our default reactions to failure. Sharon shares tips for how to get comfortable stepping into the Fail Forward! mindset and offers question to prompt your own reflection on this topic. Plus she brings in perspectives from both the Harvard Business Review and the Gilmore Girls. Enjoy!


Ideas Shared:

  • We are all writing the stories of our lives all the time, whether or not we are conscious of it. When we own our authorship, we step into our power not just to own what happens next, but to go back and revise how we tell the story of our past as well.
  • As the authors of our own lives, we tend to either write from the perspective of a Hero In Victory or a Hero in Retreat. I like to think of this in plain terms as operating from a place of strength (read: victory) vs. operating from a place of reactivity (read: retreat).

What do we tend to do when we hit failure:

  1. Sweep it under the rug and keep moving (e.g. Who? What failure? I didn’t see any failure!)

2. Give it extreme importance and let it stop us in our tracks (e.g. Excuse me while I go climb back into bed.)

While it may be human nature to run away from failure, there is so much research out there that suggests that running towards failure can be a tremendously positive catalyst for individuals and organizations.

Tips for embracing a Fail Forward mindset:

  • Honor whatever emotions show up when the potential for – or actual failure – is present – this is a practice of building emotional resilience
  • Be in the practice of celebrating your failures – that can be in a journal or other private form, in a shared way with a friend, trusted colleague
  • Model that it’s okay to fail – and learn from your failure with others (this is the kind of behavior  that moves cultures)
  • Create a process for learning from your failures

Reflection prompts to support you on your Fail Forward path:

Name 3 times you have failed in your life. Notice for each one: What did it feel like to fail? What was at stake in not succeeding? Notice, without judgement, if you have any default tendencies when it comes to failure? (Rush ahead? Climb in bed?) What did you learn from these failures at the time? What new learning might today – with all the new experiences you have had – offer you about these past failures?

What are you afraid of that’s keeping you in place? What might happen if you gave yourself permission not just to fail, but to celebrate your failures?

What are simple ways that you could begin failing forward today – this week – the month?

  • Finally, who doesn’t want to learn about failure through the lens of the Gilmore Girls? Here is some sage wisdom dished out by Lorelei Gilmore to her daughter’s best friend Lane:

“Everybody does stupid things [in high school]; it’s like a requirement…everybody screws up …that’s what happens. It’s what you do with the screw ups and how you handle the experience, that’s what you should judge yourself by.”

So true, Lorelei, so true.

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