3 Ways to Make Your Next Failure a Learning Opportunity
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Fail fast -- and recover quickly. That oft-cited catchphrase is behind some of the greatest learning experiences I’ve had in both my business and personal life.
Although failure can be a disconcerting topic for many, a “fail fast and recover quickly” philosophy equates success to the lessons learned, the ideas tried and tested and the confidence gained through the entire process.
The primary principle of this philosophy is simple: Know when to let something go. As Integrate CEO Jeremy Bloom has pointed out, studying your failures is an important skill to master in order to reach your full potential and to help your employees do the same.
The setbacks you experience as a professional, as a team and as a company can come in many forms. From my time as an executive at Black & Decker, to my current role with Nautilus, Inc., activating the fail-fast-and-recover strategy has been pivotal for me and produced transformational results.
Here are three key components of a fail-fast-and-recover philosophy -- for both your employees and yourself -- that will help you build a successful foundation and vibrant culture within your company:
1. Know when to move on.
This phrase describes the ability to let something go before you’ve invested an overabundance of time, energy and resources. The key is to reflect on how you can push yourself and team members to maintain a continued focus on what the company or organization can do better.
Five years ago, when I was new to my role as CEO at Nautilus, the company was in a fragile place: Its stock price had plummeted and company managers were risk-averse about investing resources and capital for new products.
Because of this, our product development team members believed their hands were tied, so they focused solely on “bases-loaded, homerun” products that were sure to deliver a significant return on investment.
This was the first place where we implemented the fail-fast-and-recover philosophy: We opened the risk filter wide and focused on a rigorous process that put innovation at the center of our work. It was a time to test and change, yielding the occasional “single or double” hit, while bringing employee work to the next level.
“Persistence can change failure into extraordinary achievement.”– Marv Levy
2. Equate success to the lessons learned.
One of the biggest challenges individuals face is to take a step back from failure and see the bigger picture. For example, we make it a point to host casual gatherings where our employees are encouraged to share input on everything from our latest products to workplace issues.
This is an opportunity to discuss what is and isn't working, and what lessons we can glean as individuals, as teams and as a company. As we begin to think about failure being a learning opportunity, rather than a negative, it becomes easier to find the education component within nearly any situation.
Of course, learning as a team also means growing as a team -- and in the long run, as a company. I firmly believe in an open-door policy and plenty of company-wide events. Our company's annual employee kickball league, holiday giving events and chili cook-offs help bring employees and team leaders even closer together.
Whether your team is at work or at play, the environment should be one of openness and engagement. A culture of open communication helps support a team’s ability to innovate and move on from failures with grace.
3. Make each failure a strategic one.
When failure does happen, it is essential to be mindful and deliberate about why something didn’t work, as well as attentive to what can be learned. This “big-picture” thinking is key to reaping the most out of a seemingly negative situation. Being mindful of the past missteps you have encountered will help you avoid repeating the same mistakes.
The fail-fast mantra is the model we encourage all employees to adopt when they join our company. We have worked to instill this approach across our teams to streamline processes, boost innovation and build equity across the board.
Failure might always be an unnerving topic, associated with disappointment and setback. However, I encourage you to remember that it’s your own personal outlook that shapes your current situation. Viewing a failure, whether it is your own, or one that results from a business initiative, as simply that -- a failure -- will define it as such. Our careers are full of learning opportunities -- even if at first they do not present themselves as educational ones.
When you step back and apply your own “fail-fast-and-recover quickly” philosophy, it is possible -- to continue the baseball metaphor -- to turn those rained-out ballgames into a winning season for you and your employees.