Fail Harder or Forever Hold Your Peace

Most people understand that one has to fail in order to learn but if you ask yourself and others, "Where is it safe to fail?" an honest answer, sadly, would be, "Nowhere!" Rarely do you hear someone say, "I need to figure out how I can fail today," nor would this person find themselves in line for the next promotion.

Photo by MicaEli on Flickr.

Photo by MicaEli on Flickr.

We are trained and conditioned from an early age to succeed and win. The message is clear: get the gold medal, the A, or the blue ribbon. Mistakes are pointed out and publicly ridiculed. People that make "mistakes" are often criticized in many organizations. Ironically, the same organizations wonder why no one is willing to take risk or find it hard to think "outside the box" or in innovative ways.

Over the past few years I have had the privilege of working with forward thinking leaders and companies on change and innovation. One of the best concepts I have learned is from Dan Wieden, co-founder of the famous ad agency Wieden+Kennedy, who coined the phrase "Just Do It" for Nike many years ago. While sitting in Dan's office we were visiting about innovation and he mentioned this idea that people need to be willing to "fail harder." My brain was on its tippy toes as soon as I heard the phrase. I knew it was the answer for many of my clients who were desperately trying to be innovative but were afraid of failing.

Fail harder or forever hold your peace.

Innovation without failing is like trying to learn to ski without ever falling—impossible. And if you don't fall, you probably are not really skiing. I also love the idea because it is true of all my direct experience with innovation and learning, that in order to have success, one has to be willing to fail. The more we wait for the "right time" and the "right situation," the slower the learning and the innovation. The answer is to Fail Harder.

Here are 6 tips that can help you fail harder:

1. Remember: everything starts small.

Don’t treat the idea or new change like it’s a full grown adult—it's merely a baby. The average child falls at least 200 times before learning to walk.

2. Get over your perfectionism.

Innovation and perfectionism can't co-exist. Give yourself permission to fail harder. Which one do you want more? Which one will serve you best?

Don’t expect success where there has not been adequate failure.

3. Act like a kid and play.

Remember the curiosity and playfulness of being a kid. This is what many call the beginner's mind. A child freely playing rarely thinks of failing.

4. Don't take yourself so seriously.

Ego can wreak havoc on innovation. Learn to Let Go.

Focus on what needs to be done to succeed, not the ways you can fail.

5. Detach from the outcome.

Put an all-out effort into innovation or change initiatives but detach from the outcome so that you can learn and adapt.

6. Just Do It!

Perhaps Dan and Nike have it right: Just Do It!

What suggestions do you have for failing harder?