You always pass failure on your way to success


20 August 2020

3 minutes

“You always pass failure on your way to success”
Mickey Rooney

The fear of failing can be very debilitating and intense, especially in a competitive business world where mistakes can cause losing of a sale, a promotion, even a job or in high risk environments where mistakes can have unforeseen consequences. There are those people for whom a mistake can be perceived as a definition that they failed or that they are not capable of, and there are those who perceive a mistake as a learning and growth opportunity.

PhD. Carol S. Dweck on her book “Mindset” describes and explores these two types of people: The ones with fixed mindset tends to believe that intelligence and abilities do not change throughout their lives. Usually, for these people, all situations are a test of their capabilities: Will I fail or succeed? Will make a fool of myself or will I be perceived as intelligent? They tend to take part in situations where there is a lower chance to fail as errors can be perceived as a personal failure that defines who they are. The ones with growth mindset believe you can cultivate capabilities. Mistakes are perceived as learning opportunities, and because of that taking risks can be something desirable as the outcome is positive either way: or they will succeed, or they will learn from it.

According to Dr. Dweck’s book, the people more likely to succeed are the ones with growth mindset. But what about the organizations? Which type of mindset does our organizations have? In our world, mistakes are not tolerated. Products cannot fail, especially due to the consequences it may have. Therefore, processes and redundancies are implemented to avoid any failures. Working in the nuclear sector, we correctly prioritize excellence in the development of any product and services to guarantee no failures. Redundant processes and systems, safety barriers, robust qualification and quality assurance programs are all examples of systems that are and have to be in place to avoid any failures.

However, what happens when this need of perfection in the results is translated to interactions among employees and is transmitted as a pressure to not make any mistakes? BrenĂ© Brown, a researcher of shame and vulnerability and author of the best seller “Dare to Lead”, showed in her research that in order to allow creativity and innovation, failure needs to be not only allowed but understood as a normal part of the process. An environment that doesn’t allow mistakes or that treats it as unnatural is not motivating innovation, creativity and different solutions.

“There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period.”
Brene Brown

Having tolerance for mistakes doesn’t mean that it will allow failing final products, but the pressure to not commit mistakes can prevent employees from raising questions and concerns, and this type of behavior needs to be encouraged as an essential part of the safety culture that we want and need to be in the core of our developments. No tolerance for mistakes also prevents the employees from thinking outside the box and testing new alternatives that can drive innovative solutions, new products and cost saving procedures.

An article from Harvard Business Review stated that managing for failure doesn’t mean abandoning supervision, quality control, or respect for sound practices. Just the opposite, it requires executives to be more engaged, not less. This doesn’t mean making the organization complacent, instead it means encouraging new ideas to surface, trying different solutions, and having the correct processes in place to cultivate and leverage the innovation that come from it at the same time that guarantees high quality standards with excellence in the results. Innovation is open to all organizations and industries if they implement the correct type of growing and tolerant environment, the growth mindset. And on a personal level: Allow yourself to try, as Albert Einstein once said “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
Written by
Alice Cunha da Silva

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