“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” ~Thomas A. Edison
I know you’ve heard this many times, but it bears repeating: Failure = Opportunity to Learn.
A device I use to remember this comes from a story I heard many years ago during a coach training class. We had just been taught a new skill and were about to practice with a classmate, which can be quite a nerve-wracking experience. The instructor told us a story from a training she had previously attended. The story has been so powerful and useful for me, I’m passing it along to you:
She was in a class, learning a new skill. And her instructor asked the students to do the following: Whenever anyone made an error or failed in applying the new skill, they were to leap enthusiastically up out of their chair, throw both arms up in the air and yell with gleeful gusto, “FANTASTIC!” This was an all-day course, with lots of skill practice going on – so each student got many opportunities to yell, “FANTASTIC!”
The effects of this crazy learning technique are profound:
- The silliness and exuberance that rippled around the classroom lightened the mood and calmed the nerves that often come with clumsy first attempts at practicing any new skill (especially in front of others!).
- Hearing cries of, “FANTASTIC!” percolate through the course all day long was a reassuring and community-building reminder that everyone makes mistakes and no one is perfect.
- Leaping up to yell, “FANTASTIC!” shifted the energy so radically from guarded hesitation to uninhibited, freewheeling experimentation – the students learned a great deal more because the atmosphere actually made it fun and acceptable to fail!
Naturally, I’d love to see you try this technique to help you convert your own failures into learning.
But the bigger question I’m asking you as a leader is: How can you infuse this mindset of “FANTASTIC!” into your leadership style? How can you create an atmosphere among your team that mistakes and failure are not reasons to lambast, but opportunities to invite creative new solutions? If your people are afraid to fail for fear that they will get “marked down” in some way, they will instinctively tighten up and back away from the experimentation that leads to innovation.
You might find ways to repeat this “FANTASTIC!” exercise with your team. But even without this specific activity, you would serve yourself and your team well by stepping back to reflect on how your personal style either invites or stifles the creativity that is often born of failure.
What if Thomas Edison were on your team? Would the atmosphere you’ve created invite him to continue trying to invent the light bulb, one failure at a time? Or would you just be in the dark?