Lately, I have been obsessed with the idea of failure. In particular, I think I am more obsessed with how our culture (the world culture, not our company) has such a negative view of failure. I have to admit, I am very guilty of using failure of my coworkers, wife, and siblings as a way of saying I told you so. I think that often times we are either so competitive or we have a desire to be perfect that we don’t want people to think we “can’t handle something” or that we “are incompetent.”

Today at our weekly meeting we had another great conversation regarding perfection in the workplace, and taking initiative. It was brought to my attention that people will present ideas to me, and my immediate reaction is to give my two cents on their idea (which usually results in picking out all the things I don’t like about their idea) This can lead that person to feel like I am disapproving of their idea and the fact that they are trying to take initiative. When in reality, all I am trying to do is share my opinion. I don’t care if they listen to my opinion or not, but I do want them to act on AN opinion (whether it’s mine or theirs) quickly and decisively.

This is great in theory, but the employee doesn’t feel like they can still act on their opinion (or act in a manner that is against my opinion) if they think that I am going to use it as an opportunity to scold them or tell them “I told you so.”

What I became so increasingly aware of today, was that I have to drive home the point over and over again that not only am I okay with them failing, but I expect and even WANT them to fail. I want our culture to be a place where people “have the freedom to fail, in the name of doing something [new and] great!” (This was my own addition to something that a friend of mine, Aaron Bayer said about his staff).

The way that I look at it is this:

If people in your office are not failing there are two possible causes:

  1. They are afraid that they will be punished or scolded if they do fail.
  2. They are not pushing themselves.

If they are afraid then you have to determine:

1. Is it an internal thing for them that they have to overcome?

2. Is the workplace discouraging them, or are there systems in place that are actually creating a fear of failure?

If they are not pushing themselves:

1. Do you have unmotivated people?

2. Are you not giving your people the freedom to try new things?

Either way, if people in your office are not failing it all comes back to you. Something the leader of the business is doing is preventing failure to take place.

Ed Catmull somes up the idea of failure very well when he said, “Failure is not a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.”

Think about that…