Celebrate Failure

“I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”
~Thomas Edison~

Trevor wanted his people to be pillars of innovation and creativity. When he came to me for coaching around innovation, he mentioned how fearful his team was in taking risks and possibly touching failure. I asked him, “What are you doing to celebrate failures?” Like many leaders, he had no answer. We then looked at some fun ways that corporate leaders have learned to take their failures and celebrate them. In doing so, they help their most creative people to develop exciting new ideas.

Celebrating your failures is just as important as celebrating your success. Here’s some ideas for you.

  1. Hold an Idea Funeral
    Holding an idea funeral is a fun way to learn from the failure as a group, as Annabel Acton says in an Inc. article. Take turns eulogizing the idea or project you’re “burying,” sharing lessons learned. Focus on its merits as well as the reasons it ultimately failed. This creates a culture of trying out new ideas and learning from the results. “Startup funerals” have taken off as well, as budding entrepreneurs are increasingly embracing failure as a stepping-stone to success.
  2. Create a Fail Wall
    The finance website NerdWallet creates a “Fail Wall” where mistakes are posted, emphasizing that everyone fails and honoring outside-the-box thinking. Why not set up a “Fail Wall” in your own workplace? Give it a brightly colored banner and encourage people to write down their failures on post-it notes and stick them on the wall.
  3. Give a Heroic Failure award
    Advertising company Grey gives a “Heroic Failure” award to employees who take ambitious risks and go down in flames. Giving this award changes the culture of feeling shame or humiliation if a risk doesn’t pan out. Rather than letting failure become part of people’s identity, they become branded as risk-takers.
  4. Hold a “F— Up Night”
    In a popular social meetup event called “F— Up Nights,” a handful of entrepreneurs tell their stories about failure, followed by a Q&A session. These events been held in over 250 cities across 80 countries. Hold a similar event with your own people, encouraging everyone to take a turn at the mic. If it’s a hit, hold a series of them so everyone gets time to share and ask questions. Find a fun way to host the event outside of the office, like reserving a large room at a restaurant or finding a community space that hosts performances.
  5. Record What You’ve Tried
    Keep a track record of failures, with detailed information about what people tried. Just as a failed cancer drug proved incredibly useful for managing the AIDS virus, a past failure can become a wild success in a different context. Take notes on why the idea failed—it might succeed under the right conditions, or if certain aspects of it are revamped.

It’s most fitting to celebrate failures related to innovation, rather than execution, Harvard Business Review points out. You want to celebrate the failures that show you took a leap. If someone failed to follow through on a task, you obviously won’t want to throw a party. If she gave her all in a new project and it just didn’t achieve the desired results, that’s different. Celebrating those kinds of failures will help your people learn to fail gracefully, growing from the experience.

Most importantly, stop thinking—and talking—in terms of “win/lose.” When you eliminate the shame around failure, and show it’s okay to be vulnerable, people can talk about it. That means they can learn from it, finding the germ of a great idea within it.

Want more advice on boosting creativity and innovation in your company? Hire leadership coach Joel Garfinkle so he can help you develop and implement ideas that get results.

4 Steps to Unleash Your Creative Thinking Skill

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“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”

~ Scott Adams ~

Deann found herself stuck in a huge rut. As marketing manager for a major Internet company, she had always prided herself on being an “idea person.” Her team was known throughout the company as the place where creativity lived and thrived. Lately, however, she felt as though everything was turning gray. No bright ideas, no exciting new campaigns—Deann knew she had to do something to turn things around. If she was not inspired, how could she inspire her team? And they had a major new campaign to develop in the next month. No creativity = no campaign.

After a few days of wallowing in this unhappy state, Deann decided to conduct her own research project on creativity. She found an astounding number of resources and within a day or two she had come up with her own strategy for reactivating her creative thinking skills. Here’s her four-step action plan:

  • Step 1: Acknowledge that you are creative
  • Step 2: Let your inner child come out to play
  • Step 3: Change your perspective
  • Step 4: Pass it on

1. Step 1: Acknowledge that you are creative. This one may be the most difficult. Some people actually believe that either you are born creative, or you’re not. And there’s nothing you can do about it either way. Rather than getting stuck in the argument, Deann chose to make a list of situations in the past where her creativity had been running on high. Successful ad campaigns, new product launches, social media successes—by the time she finished her list, it was obvious to Deann that she had creativity to spare. It had just gone dormant somehow. Time to wake it up!

2. Step 2: Let your inner child come out to play. Children have no inhibitions about exercising their creativity. They will make mud pies, color outside the lines, draw pictures of unicorns—perfect demonstrations of creativity in action. But somewhere along the line, we grow up. We lose the sense of wonder, we become afraid to show off what we’ve got. Or as one teacher put it, “We start school as a question mark but we graduate as a period.” For the next two weekends, Deann did nothing but play. She went to kids’ movies. She took her nephews to the zoo. She bought a set of adult coloring books and paints and almost got lost in a world of color. Now she was ready for

3. Step 3: Change your perspective. As Deann considered her upcoming campaign challenge, she decided to throw out all the existing ideas, many of which were just reruns of past campaigns. Instead, she put together a list of what-ifs to create some new perspectives:

  • What if we were doing this campaign in Brazil or China?
  • What if our target market was seniors instead of millenials?
  • What if we were selling corn flakes instead of high tech apps?
  • What if we could be totally outrageous without fear of criticism?

The ideas began to explode in her head like popcorn. Deann was making notes so fast she could barely get one written before another one popped into her head. It was definitely time for

4. Step 4: Pass it on. It’s been said that we teach best what we most need to learn (Richard Bach). Deann knew that the best way to keep the creativity flowing and growing was to get her team together and share with them what she had learned. She decided on a half-day mini-retreat, off site, where everyone could be casual and relaxed. You can’t rush creativity. It’s much more effective to simply create an environment that allows it to happen.

She knew that diversity often inspires new thought, while sitting around with the same old team can cause everyone to fall into a group-think rut. So Deann decided to invite some of her colleagues from other departments to join the retreat. She wanted her team to be confronted with new ways of seeing things.

The results were rewarding. Not only did the entire team unleash a new level of creativity, word of Deann’s changing perspective began to spread around the company before the new campaign was ready for prime time. This created a high level of excitement and anticipation, and when the new campaign was launched, it was immediately labeled “the best one yet.” Now whenever she begins to feel stuck, Deann just takes her team back to her four-step plan for a refresher.

If you’re feeling stuck and under pressure to perform, e-mail Joel for some new ideas. You are more creative than you think. Apply these tips above and your creative skills will develop and grow.

Talkback: How do you keep your creative thinking flowing? Share your ideas here.

Image courtesy of Pixabay/ pixabay.com