Overcoming Our Fear of Failure by Writing Our Failure Resume

This week I published an article Why You Should Create Your Own ‘Failure Resume’ for the career blog Brazen Careerist.  In the article I suggest that we all need to move beyond our fear of failure, as individuals and organizations, and that by creating our own Failure Resume we can take the first step.  I have included an excerpt from the article [FULL ARTICLE LINK] that explains the what, why, and how of the failure resume:

What’s a failure resume?

The first time I heard this term was back in 2009. Stanford professor Tina Seelig blogged about how she required her students to write a “failure resume.”

These resumes don’t highlight what one would typically expect to find in a resume. Instead of compiling successes, they list personal, professional and academic failures. After each failure, she had her students reflect on what they learned throughout the process. Genius.

When considering what to add to your own failure resume, it’s important to know the distinction between a failure and a mistake. They aren’t one and the same. A failure is a lack of success, whereas a mistake is an incorrect action. Failure doesn’t necessarily have to stem from a mistake.

Why use a failure resume?

Here are the two strongest reasons for using this type of marketing document:

1. It helps you learn from your failures. Too often, we are uncomfortable admitting our work has failed. We’re quick to put our failures behind us. But why not learn from them? Purposefully take the time to understand what you accomplished, determine what you learned throughout the process and decide what you would do differently.

2. You can more easily assess how much risk you’re taking on in your current role. Most people are overly satisfied with their performance in their current roles. They’re accomplishing their goals and moving their careers and organizations forward, but if you were to ask them the last time they failed at work, they’d likely be stumped.

Don’t play it too safe. As Woody Allen once said, “If you are not failing every now and again, it’s a sign that you’re not doing anything very innovative.”

As you create your own resume, you’ll have a chance to reflect on what you’ve done right—and what you haven’t. This, in itself, should be motivation to improve.

How to create a failure resume

One of the tricks used to get to the root cause of a problem is the “five whys” technique. When creating your failure resume, list a failure and then try to answer one simple question: why did this project fail?

From there, take your answer and try to drill down further by continuing to answer “Why?” four more times. Eventually, you’ll reach the root cause of the failure. This is your chance to address that cause.

You can try and ignore it, but odds are, you’ll face the same issue again. Don’t let that happen! Save yourself from the disappointment of having to list the same failure, year after year, by nipping the issue in the bud right now.

As I continue to discuss the lessons that this tool can offer I have concluded that there are three distinct ways that we can approach the failure resume:

  • Personal Development – how do we take the time as individuals to look back on our failures, discover what we can learn from them, and then go about making the changes we determine necessary?  Start by writing our own failure resume.
  • Organizational Learning – how do we encourage our employees, from the CEO on down, to admit to their failures without the fear of extreme consequences?  Use a variation of the failure resume to capture failures, and accomplishments, in the organization’s annual review process.
  • Hiring Process – how do we ensure that we are hiring future employees who have the right mindset toward innovation, risk taking, and failure?  Try ask candidates to bring a copy of their Failure Resume with them during the interview process.
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