How to Celebrate Failure

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.

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