The measure of success for most NFL coaches is did they get their team into the postseason playoffs. This year the Minnesota Vikings had a regular season record of 10 wins and 6 loses, the exact same record as the Chicago Bears. Even though the Bears had the same numbers of wins, the Vikings made it the playoffs and the Bears didn’t. This was based on the Vikings winning one more division game than the Bears. The Bears season is over and so is coach Lovie Smith’s era when he was fired last Monday. How different the feeling is for Vikings coach Leslie Fraizer. He is being lauded for bringing his team back from a 3-13 record last season and getting his team to the playoffs this year.
The king of conservative retail, Target Corp, just had a rare sighting… a failure? While Target might not be the most conservative retailer out there they certainly wouldn’t be considered a big risk taker. In fact, just two years ago Target announced they were taking the huge leap into “international” retailing. If you are keeping track that was a full 20 years after Wal-Mart opened its first international store, Mexico City, Mexico, in 1991! Well, we are still waiting for the Target Canada stores to open in March/April 2013 but Target’s recent partnership with Neiman Marcus has officially been deemed a failure. See Time’s recent article titled Epic Retail Fail: Where Did the Target + Neiman Marcus Collection Go Wrong?
Business2Community just published my article “A Look In The Mirror: Learning From Failure” yesterday. In the article I describe how organizations need to address their failures instead of running from them if they are truly going to learn. I suggested that an organization’s HR function can act as a catalyst in addressing failures by creating an opportunity to share the lessons learned with the entire organization. One way that an organization can start building in a tolerance for failure is by having their own Failure Forums where they address each failure with three questions: 1) What did the team accomplish?, 2) What did the team learn?, and 3) What would they have done differently? If every organization would embrace failure in this way I guarantee that we would see a significant improvement in innovation by reducing our fear of failure.
There won’t be any floats or parades in San Francisco today but there will be a similarly strong debate on fear, emotion, and failure. Today is the fourth annual FailCon conference being held in San Francisco, California. The goal of the conference is to “Stop being afraid of failure and start embracing it” and it is targeted at Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, investors, developers and designers. The thought is that by talking about our failures and learning from the failures of others we can move beyond our fear of failure toward our path to success. Sound familiar?
I have to admit that I’m pretty excited! My interview with MO.com was published yesterday on my work in launching my writing, blogging, and speaking business with MattHunt.co & FailureForums.com. In the interview I discuss my personal failure story and my subsequent interest in helping organizations understand the importance of planning for and learning from failure.
A friend and former colleague who knows of my interest and passion for better understanding failure had forwarded a link to me a few months back for www.admittingfailure.com. The site is hosted by Ashley Good from the group Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWBC). Ashley launched the site in January 2011 as part of a growing movement in bringing transparency to failures in the international development sphere. The people working in the non-profit sector are not much different to those working in for-profit businesses when it comes to failure. A statement from the site notes that “The development community is failing…to learn from failure. Instead of recognizing these experiences as learning opportunities, we hide them away out of fear and embarrassment.”
How do we learn how to fail? I know this sounds like a ridiculous question, we don’t need to “know” how to fail because it just happens. We start with a plan or idea and it could be any plan really: to get an A on a paper, to get into a certain school, to ask someone out on a date, or to get that next promotion. We then set in motion actions that will get us closer to our plan: studying the class material, preparing an application, finding out a phone number (I have to admit my dating experience might be a “dated”), or delivering a key project for your boss. Eventually you will either succeed or fail in your plan: maybe you ace the test, you get your acceptance letter, she agrees to a first date, or you get that promotion? But maybe you don’t? And if not, then what happens next? What is your fallback plan, your contingency, or your pivot? How do you pick yourself up and move on?
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