Creating an Expectation of Failure

“We need to think about failure differently. I’m not the first to say that failure, when approached properly, can be an opportunity for growth. But the way most people interpret this assertion is that mistakes are a necessary evil. Mistakes aren’t a necessary evil. They aren’t evil at all. They are an inevitable consequence of doing something new … And yet, even as I say that embracing failure is an important part of learning, I also acknowledge that acknowledging this truth is not enough. That’s because failure is painful, and our feelings about this pain tend to diminish our understanding of its worth. To disentangle the good and the bad parts of failure, we have to recognize both the reality of the pain and the benefit of the resulting growth.”   Ed Catmull—founder of Pixar

Pixar, the company responsible for popular movies such as Toy Story, Cars, and A Bug’s Life, boasts a culture of failure.  Led by founder Ed Catmull and true of many of the company’s leaders the expectation at Pixar is that if you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t taking enough risks.

Catmull, goes on to explain that when people talk about learning from failures and that is the positive view.  However, the more common view of failure is to equate failure with messing up or being not smart. In business failure is a source of angst.  In school, failure is a source of shame.

Andrew Stanton, a Pixar employee, says, “fail early and fail fast…be wrong as fast as you can.” No one would expect to learn to ride a bike without stumbling at first.  Stanton suggests that if we would apply this mindset to all new attempts it would overcome the negative connotation associated with making mistakes. He suggests this is a way to go beyond learning from failure to understanding that failure is an essential part of a successful outcome.

10-successive-01One of the habits of a systems thinker offers a strategy to help embrace failure.  A systems thinker checks results and changes actions if needed.  This habit is also referred to as successive approximation.  Successive approximation is grounded in the belief that all great work will require adjustments a long the way.  Anticipating those minor adjustments is one way to embrace failure.

What are some ways you could bring the expectation of failure to your personal life, your work place or your school system?  The results could be amazing!


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