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Embracing Failure

Lesson 5 from: Jumpstart Innovation with Adventurous Thinking

Sally Dominguez

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Lesson Info

5. Embracing Failure

Lesson Info

Embracing Failure

A huge part of adventurous thinking is embracing failure and we hear this a lot, right? Has anyone here been told in their workplace or in any part of their life right now, they're supposed to be embracing failure? Yeah, how are we going with that? (laughs) Embracing failure is a hard one, right? Because people say it and it's in every single article. Hey, lean in, embrace failure, fail forward. But how do you actually do that without losing your job? Or without losing respect? Or without losing friends? Like, what is that even? How does that even look? I've got some concepts. So, failure needs to be about bouncing back. Of course, that's what people mean when they say we fell forward. But the thing about failure is, failure is as impactful as grief. So think about that. We get hit sideways, like we've been hit by a truck when something happens and we grieve. And in many cases, when we fail, we have a similar thing. We have denial, we have anger, we have bargainining, we have depressio...

n, we have acceptance. We have these stages depending on how massive it is. I was working with a huge medical research company and we were talking about failure. I said, well, you know we need to embrace failure. And a couple of the researchers said, right, well, our failure was a four year program, eight million dollars and it was a failure. So you show us how to embrace that thing. You know, and my immediate impact, my immediate response was, well, how did your leaders show you how to embrace that? You know, how did your company celebrate what you'd done and then perhaps take it into parts that we could learn from? And was there even a debrief on that fail? I mean, that is an epic fail that cost people, in their mind, career opportunity. Which, often, you know, fail in a career situation can cost us opportunity, maybe. Unless we have a debrief and we show that we can rebound from that. So yeah. The thing about grief is, you know, something hideous has happened and it's irreversible. But in failure, something horrible has happened and you can bounce forward. You can rebound. Use the basketball pickup. You can actually score off that thing. But we need to work out how to structure it. Because embracing failure is really, really hard. We're people. We're not machines. And when you fail, you get that stigma. And what we need to learn is how we can make that stigma a thing that, yeah, we learn from, but it's also less of a stigma. It's something that people accept as part of progress and the growth mindset. Harder to do than say. So there's a couple of ways people get around it. You know, in Silicon Valley there's a lot of talk about the minimum viable product. The idea that something doesn't have to be perfect before you get it out to it's audience. You can stop half way through, jam up a prototype. It's also part of design thinking. Jam up a prototype, throw it to the audience. Get some feedback, that way you fail a little less. Spend a little less money. It's also part of the frugal mindset. Right? We can model something up. We can throw it out there and see how we go. It's a less expensive way to fail, but it doesn't come with any less stigma when it doesn't work, right? So, we actually have to work out a way to acknowledge the hurt. This is how Google X does it. Now, for a start, I think the way Google X does it is really smart because they've called that part of the company that does incredible things that are really, really hard and highly likely to fail, moonshots. So, it's all in the name, right? If you know that something is called a moonshot then you understand that it's got a high probability of failing. But it also has a cool factor to it. So, you're like, yeah I'm working on a moonshot. So, giving what you're doing a name that shows people your expectation, that it's trying something really hard, it's trying something really innovative, it's highly likely to fail, but if you don't move the game forward, who will? So, Obi Felton was speaking at a thing that I was at. She's head of Google X and was talking about how they deal with failure by handing out these cool stickers. They have these stickers that are a scrumpled up piece of paper. And every time a team tries something and stuffs it up completely, they get a sticker. And then they're supposed to put it on the front of their laptops. So every time you have people are working in the open office on their bean bags you see all these scrumpled up paper stickers all over their laptop and you understand that they have failed a ton of times and they're rocking it. Right, again, it does help to work in a company that actually says we expect you to fail, because that's the only way we'll ever make a successful moonshot. I mean, Google really does acknowledge that failure is an awesome thing. So think about how you would acknowledge how failure is an awesome thing in your environment. Maybe it's with family. Maybe it's with friends. Maybe it's at work. If you're sole practitioner like me, maybe it's all of that. You know? But how would you name what you do? I mean, I sort of did with adventurous thinking. Adventurous. That's sort of failure inherent in that I think. But how would you name what you do such that people understand you're okay with it? And then how would you celebrate it in a way that still reminds people you're okay with it? And somehow brand failure as a mark of innovation? It's tricky. I've got a couple of strategies and suggestions. Have a look at this. So the first thing is you want to anticipate failure. You know that it's gonna come and you're cool with that. It's like a healthy disregard for small daily failure is this idea that you make it known to people that, if you're saying yes to everything, yeah, there's gonna be fail, but you understand that's part of growth. And growth is a great word. As soon as people hear it they go "I get it." Right? We all want growth. Companies all want growth. We need to fail more. Then I would suggest we rebrand failure as rebound. So rebound makes it really obvious. Especially in this country where everyone's into basketball. Especially in San Francisco where everyone's really into basketball. A rebound is something everyone understands, right? It went slightly pear shaped, but I'm gonna pick it up and make it work harder. So if we can talk about failure in those terms beginning with our family, but also to our colleagues, to our teams, to our friends, then it makes it more acceptable. We also need to acknowledge the hurt clearly. And that's all about the scrumpled up paper sticker. Or anything, right? Or maybe it's everybody getting round and having a drink and debriefing. 'Cause a debrief is huge. But the key is understanding also the value in old failure. So when I was talking to this medical research company, huge, about their biggest failures, these teams of people who had worked for years who felt that their career had suffered who were now like, mulching around, unhappy, had spent a ton of money. And I said to their leaders, you know, actually there's a huge amount of future value in old failures. You only have to look at artificial intelligence right now and how they've remined patents from the 80s and are now able to realize stuff that was only a dream then. We now have the tech and the resources to realize stuff that, in the day, was doomed to failure. Similarly with medical. You know, what didn't work 10 or 15 years ago could easily work now. Things have massively changed. And so, you know, you think about fashion. All the big fashion houses, right? You can have an incredible epic fail in fashion, say, the mid 80s, a whole lot of it. Not for me, but maybe for many other people. But, designers go back again and again and they look at not only what succeeded back in the day, but what failed. And they'll take a nugget of that and they'll bring it forward and rethink it. And that's this idea that in fact, in our failure, you can remine really valuable stuff. Pretty exciting when you think of it that way. So how would you have your company or your friend group, or your family understand that archiving that stuff and then going back through it. A debrief so you understand what's there. Tuck it away, and go back to some crazy failure four years later or five years later. And see what you can pull out of it. Any questions on fail? Yes? Regarding the stickers for every failure you talked about, do they only recognize failures or do they also recognize success with those stickers? And if that's the case, wouldn't it be acknowledging trying, like effort versus just failures? Right. As I understand it, they're specifically about massive effort that didn't result in a new reality right now. So, that's what I love about it. You're right, they're acknowledging effort. But they don't acknowledge the effort that then moved the game forward. They acknowledge the effort that will move the game forward. So right now, it's not gonna work. You know, they've tried, say, well, it's not the balloons with the monitors on it, but say they've tried some stuff that hasn't worked right now. That's what the paper's for. Is, it doesn't go to the people that have succeeded. The success for them is that they form teams, and go off, and have a startup, and off it goes as a project. But this is where at whatever point it's been deemed that that project right now is off. But you're right, it's effort. I love that. Thank you. (chuckles) Yes? I see the crumpled paper not as a sign of failure but a sign of, sort of, unborn, not birthed. It's an idea maybe that someone had and they were in a group and they were pressured and they crumpled it up and it died and, out of fear or something like that. So, I kind of see them as little balls of hope, I guess. 'Cause you can unfold it. You can. They didn't rip it up. I feel like also, since they are the failure ones, and they're called the moonshot, right? Moonshot. That since they, you get like a sticker and it's all on your laptop, it's almost kind of like a success as well, because, if you actually attempted doing one of the moonshots and it's like, right up there on your laptop and everyone sees that you've actually tried it, then it kind of is a little mini success in itself. Yeah. Even though it is a failure, that kind of flips. Just because they know that you tried that and even though you didn't finish it you still had the mind able to do that. Yeah, it becomes a badge of honor. It's a heroic fail, right? Yeah. It's something that shows that you really tried and it's really safe to not try. And this is not a world right now that needs safe. This is a world right now that needs excited attempts, right? To find out what the new normal is gonna be. And so, yeah, I love that, it's a badge of honor as heroic fail. It's like, this is what I did and I'm really good with it 'cause it's gotta be on the front of the computer. (laughs) I don't know what happens when you run out of room. It just looks like one big shmoo. That's got to be a good thing. Maybe they buy you a new computer. (laughs) That's an epic fail.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Creativity Quiz Worksheet
Rebound Worksheet
Core Value Worksheet
Innovation Quadrant Worksheet
Which Lens Worksheet
Backcasting Worksheet

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Ratings and Reviews

Ivana Vucinic

This class is truly AMAZING! It is really unique and it got me thinking in new and innovative ways. Very much out of the box thinking! Makes you become courageous, Well done, Sally!!!

Sukey Dominguez

Jumpstart Innovation with Adventurous Thinking exceeded my expectations! Sally brought practical tools that, "lenses" to flip every situation inside out and find the possibilities in every situation. As one who works to lead teams, healthcare providers facing incredible demands to achieve results in population health / ultimately global health and the wellness of business operations, I'm thrilled to have found this course. Design is one thing, taking risk is another. I'm inspired by Sally because she drives energy to see what CAN be in the future. This is a unique class and I look forward to her next offering.

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