“ How failure Becomes Our Greatest Opportunity To Learn”
Today’s leadership message is one of those “must reads” as it deals with failure as a key ingredient in our journey of life-long learning and success. The below article is a reprint from the Orange County Register, Tuesday, May 6, 2014 located in the Chapman University Section. The article is titled “Fail fast, learn, recycle by Richard Sudek, Ph.D, assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Chapman University. In his article he presents an impressive argument that we can change the paradigm of seeing failure as a loss, to embracing failure as a “normal” testing phase for an effort, idea, new strategy or venture of any sort in life and in business. Using examples of well-known entrepreneur giants in the Silicon Valley, Dr. Sudek creates new excitement for leaders to run towards failure as an essential part of discovering and achieving excellence in results. While the concept of “failing forward” is not new, this article puts a turbo spin on what failure can do to motivate us to try and try again to hit the bulls-eye in any target or goal we may set out to achieve. Failure, when embraced as part of learning as a positive step in the process takes us from hitting just a home run, to hitting a grand slam!
Fail Fast, Learn, Recycle
BY RICHARD SUDEK / CHAPMAN UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR
Published: April 30, 2014 Updated: 3:04 p.m.
Richard Sudek, Ph.D., is an Active Angel investor with more than 20 investments in start-up companies, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Chapman University and director of the Leather by Center for Entrepreneurship and Business Ethics.
He earned his doctorate in management from Claremont Graduate University. His primary research interests are in the area of entrepreneurial finance, entrepreneurial leadership and team leadership.
He has served on advisory committees for Microsoft, IBM, Novell and Cisco and consults extensively with start-up companies on matters related to strategy, financing, operations and executive coaching.
Many of us avoid failure. We have been taught from kindergarten to succeed and get good grades. Rarely is failure celebrated in youth. However, failure is a necessary component for success in entrepreneurship. The faster we fail and move on to a solution, the sooner we reach success.
Often younger entrepreneurs, and plenty who are not so young, focus on the successes. Few of us enjoy discussing failure. I have sat in many board meetings of start-up companies and listened to the things that “got done,” “we got right” and “successes.” However, rarely is there enough time spent on what we “did wrong,” “failed at,” “changed due to failure” and “what we learned.” It is the understanding of why failure happened where often the most impactful learning resides. These learning opportunities can be instrumental in informing important decisions in the future.
Entrepreneurs who are eager to review and discuss their failures and to learn from failure are more likely to succeed. Often society and entrepreneurs talk about failure as something that is inevitable as an entrepreneur. However, this is usually at the intellectual level. If entrepreneurs embraced failure at the behavioral and emotional level, then they would be excited to discuss it since it is normal and learning is likely. However, especially when we are younger, most of us assign “bad” to failure and thus find some embarrassment in discussing it in the process or shortly after. This is where the emotion of failure gets in the way. If we truly thought failure was normal and we could learn, then it would have a more benign feeling.
And thus we would embrace it and discuss it freely. Many don’t feel it is benign, but rather in some way feel it is shameful or at least uncomfortable.
So how do we change this pattern? Start with discussing little problems/failures. If you are in a leadership role in a start-up, discuss your failures with your team.
Don’t expect others to do this just because you say it is OK. The most effective teaching method is modeling. This is why it is crucial for you to set the example and show your team what to do rather than tell them what to do.
Focus on what you learned. Make this part of your weekly meetings. Eventually, encourage your team to bring at least one failure to the meeting.
The process should include these steps: First, state the problem/failure. Second, review what you have tried. Third, discuss what ideas you have to resolve the problem. This exposes the learning. Lastly, ask for input and ideas. This engages the entire team in the solution. It also creates a culture of discussing problems and solutions.
This accelerates resolving problems and builds a culture of being open about problems and solving them as a team.
In addition, this process will eventually turn into a metric on how hard your team is trying new things. If you are not failing some, then you probably are not trying enough new ideas and new approaches to existing processes or issues.
If you can create an environment where trying new things and failing is not frowned on, you can facilitate a more innovative environment. This will eventually lead to more effective growth of your staff, the company and the bottom line.
Silicon Valley is famous for “Fail Fast and Recycle.” This is often thought of at the firm level. There is plenty of failure in the valley, and typically these entrepreneurs move on to a new approach.
Typically this process is called a “pivot.” Often a pivot is simply a failure that caused the entrepreneur to implement a strategic shift. Obviously most pivots are the result of a failure or seeing a bigger opportunity. However, valley entrepreneurs embrace pivot.
Let’s be honest, a pivot is a more strategic word that sounds more intentional than “we screwed up, and now we are trying something new.”
If we were to map this process out in uncomfortable words, we would have something like this:
Best Attempt > Failure > Try Something New
Silicon Valley has reworded it to:
Initial Strategy > Test/Evaluate > Pivot
I am suggesting:
Best Guess > Failure > Learn > New Best Guess (recycle)
In essence we are “recycling.” We are taking what we have, people and resources, and redirecting them or recycling them.
Why is the wording important? Because you need to create an environment where discussing failure not only is okay but comfortable.
This will bleed into different areas, and people will stop wasting time either avoiding discussing failures, or better yet, accelerate the process of discussing it with others which will lead to more effective solutions faster.
This is why you should “Fail Fast.” If you embrace the process, then we should fail as fast as we can so that we can learn and get closer to success.
We can keep using words that are more comfortable, however, I am suggesting that, by embracing the word “failure” and removing the negative meaning, we will start to understand that failing is simply the road to success. In fact, not recognizing failure early enough is likely to lead to complete failure.
However, if you do encounter complete failure, learn and then recycle your experience into something new.
For more on why we resist discussing failure, view my TEDx talk at http:// youtu.be/A2Df3eMSWYM.