As an uber-competitive overachiever, I’ve always had trouble with failure. (Just ask my husband who refuses to play board games with me so he doesn’t have to deal with my inevitable sore loser attitude!) But last month’s Harvard Business Review gave me some fresh perspectives on failure.
1. awareness and assessment of myself
My main takeaways were about the importance of:
A couple of consultant/educators identified 11 personality types likely to have dysfunctional reactions to failure.
For example, “Wary Watchers” are smart but overly sensitive to criticism and always on the lookout for betrayal, while “Martyrs” accept more blame than they deserve in order to preserve work relationships. As much as I hate to admit it, I saw myself in some of the descriptions.
But as the authors suggested, while the first step is to recognize these tendencies
, it’s most important to overcome them
. One way to do this is to reflect on challenging events or jobs in your career and consider how you handled them and what you could have done better. Another is to ask trusted colleagues or mentors to evaluate your reactions and explanations for failure.
2. expectations of and empathy with others
The issue’s focal piece advocated that leaders must build an environment where people feel safe to help spot existing and pending failures and to learn from them. One critical practice in doing so is framing the work accurately
People need a shared understanding of the kinds of failures that are to be expected and why openness and collaboration are important for surfacing and learning from them. “Accurate framing detoxifies failure.
3. deliberate and designed learning
“Exceptional organizations are those that go beyond detecting and analyzing failures and try to generate intelligent ones for the express purpose of learning and innovating
To set up a genuinely useful pilot project
, the organization should ask:
- Is the pilot being tested under typical circumstances (rather than optimal conditions)?
- Do the employees, customers, and resources represent the firm’s real operating environment?
- Is the goal of the pilot to learn as much as possible (rather than to demonstrate the value of the proposed offering)?
- Is the goal of learning well understood by all employees and managers?
- Is it clear that compensation and performance reviews are not based on a successful outcome for the pilot?
- Were explicit changes made as a result of the pilot test?
Check my blog
beginning 05.23.11 for a mini-series on failure or subscribe to the feed
so you don’t miss it