We are terrified of business failure.
And there's good reason for this fear is an evolutionary response that helps us stay live, happy, and safe.
But fear is also taught. Children are conditioned to succeed, not fail in school. Traditional grading systems reward doing the right thing that has expected outcomes. Risk and failure are rewarded with phrases like "try harder" or "you won't pass".
We take this lesson into our adulthood, and that means we are ashamed of doing poorly in any tasks that we are given. Failure induces feelings of shame and comes with churning thoughts, queasy stomachs, and lack of sleep.
This preconditioning then shows up in adulthood as we navigate personal and professional goals and even relationships. We want to hide mistakes. We second guess our abilities. And then we make more poor decisions because we aren’t sure how to rebound from failure. We judge ourselves not against attainable goals and a longterm vision, but with a hypercritical eye that tends to think everyone is succeeding but us. We stop being bold, taking action or pushing forward and we settle for safe planning or letting others lead.
There’s a success bias for others, but a failure bias for ourselves. We don’t know how many times that seemingly successful colleague failed on her way to the top. And we don’t hear about any successful person’s 100’s of failed attempts, we only hear about their wins.
The dictionary definition of failure is “lack of success” or “the omission of expected or required action”. But what if we changed the definition to include taking chances and thinking big. What if failure was not by how skilled you are at following the expected path but by how willing you are to find a new one.
Look at industries where failure is paired with an experimentation mindset. In science, you are expected and encouraged to fail. If scientists did not experiment, most of the large discoveries of the recent past would never have existed. Failure is how you eliminate the good from the great ideas. And with development in the digital world, shipping continually imperfect versions of something and letting people tell you how you failed is how you make a product that becomes very successful.
Ask yourself what you would choose to do if you knew that however long it took and whatever tries you had to make, “win” or “lose”, the business and your career would be better off because of it. Also let me be clear, we’re not talking feckless decisions, we’re talking thought through plans that contain inherent risk.
Ask yourself if you have ever made a good decision when you were afraid or full of doubt.
Feeling as if every failure is taking a step back in your goals is categorically untrue. Every failure is a disguised success if you keep going. Failure is transformative and acts as a crucible, where we have to ask ourselves “what can this be?” If you are doing whatever you can to succeed, you will fail. But it’s going back at it, rethinking your plans, and doing it again differently, and then repeating this process, that turns failure into success.
A mentor told us we need to be more WWYDIYWA what would you do if you weren’t afraid? So What would you do if you weren’t afraid?