Great leaders publicly take responsibility for failures within their organization. They should, after all – a mistake slipped through the cracks of a structure that they were responsible for building, sealing and fortifying. While an architect or carpenter actually built the castle, it came from an idea or plan the king or queen envisioned. Many failures in construction stem from failures in design. Brick and mortar analogy aside, leaders may not directly cause mistakes – but they are accountable. Even with a perfect plan or structure in place, failure within remains a failure within. Something could have been done by someone to prevent it. Most people cannot handle or admit to their own mistakes. But someone needs to. Someone needs to flag a mistake and help everyone learn from it. Not by blame or pointing fingers, but by throwing themselves under a bus to show everyone that humility can solve problems and teach lessons. Those of us who know we actually made the mistake will walk out the door with a shred of guilt and a valuable learning experience.
It’s very difficult to routinely switch gears between inward-facing and outward-facing responsibilities in an organization. One minute, you’re hunting outside for growth opportunities. Next, you’re back home taking care of chores and drama. It takes a special kind of person to juggle both simultaneously and not twist his or her head off looking back and forth all the time. One of my mentors in college made a point to hunt outside in the morning and clean up internal messes in the afternoon. By batching his processes, he was able to oversee a very large company and scale it with relative stability. I struggle to build that structure into my day-to-day management, but I see how necessary it is to find focus and routine in your operations.
Growth is an awkward and confusing experience. By building on the old and bringing in the new, life mixes up and turns to chaos. Oftentimes, you experience bumps and bruises. In the worst of situations, there may be casualties. Whether you like it or not, that’s the name of the game. The only way to stop growing pains? Stop growing. Or die. I endorse neither. Growth and change are instrumental to life. Hell, they’re key to adaptation and survival. Suck it up, learn to love the pain and enjoy the ride.
As an artist, it’s important to understand who you are and where you came from. You must iterate from old pieces – learn from what worked and discard what didn’t. Develop a genuine voice over time, understand the reception of your craft, and grow. Revisiting past projects helps you appreciate the trajectory of your skills and values. It helps you remember who you were and stay true to yourself. It helps you improve and move on.
Do not ignore your past. It is the key to mastering your craft. It is the compass for your future.
So don’t put them in one. Avoid boxing people in, limiting their freedoms, or denying opportunities. Job descriptions, risk aversion, regulations, and bureaucracy are all cages in disguise. As a leader, expect people to outgrow the cages you put them in. Be prepared with a bigger cage or let them run free. As a subject or follower, never settle until you find a comfortable cage – or until you break free.
The concept of failure as an educational tool is not new, nor is it particularly difficult to rationalize. Make a mistake and you are less likely to make the same mistake again. Touch a hot stove? Fail. Lesson learned. The human value of failure is obvious, right?
Easier said than done. Nobody likes to fail. More often than not, we shy away from the obstacles that may otherwise drive us to fail. Generally, we avoid risk. Consequently, we learn very little.
Former IBM president Thomas J. Watson once said, “If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.” In pursuit of a fulfilled life, we need to take more chances – and therefore prepare ourselves for a higher volume of failure. For what reason? Because every time we fail, we learn. The more we learn, the more equipped we are to iterate on our failure. With enough iterations, we will unlock our potential and succeed.
Abstinence from action is abstinence of growth.
Do not sit still. Take chances. Fail. And love it.