In resilience, we often refer to bouncing back, which of course alludes to the fact that somewhere along the line there’s been a failure. But what do we mean by failure? Generally, we look on it as an output – we wanted to achieve something and we didn’t, or we did it badly and the outcome wasn’t what we hoped or planned for. We see it as a single or catastrophic event that heralds the end of something, but should it perhaps it perhaps be seen as a sign of reinvention – the fundamental basis of resilience, to fail and then to bounce back.
If we don’t achieve the output we want, doesn’t it just mean we haven’t found the right way to make it work or that what we are trying to do isn’t what’s required? In other words failure is giving us the information we need to succeed. We are only going to know if something is working when we engage, so the benefit of failure is surely that we change, innovate, adapt and move forward.
It’s perhaps easier if we think of failure in terms of a process. Initially we need to fail but it’s important that we give ourselves permission. It’s very easy to set ourselves up for failure by having unrealistic expectations – a too high definition of success could mean we’d never have achieved what we wanted to do anyway. Failure needs to be quick. We need to take on board any early warning indicators that things aren’t going as they should and, once we can admit this, become accountable for the fact that something isn’t going to work. Once we’ve accepted the mistake, we need to put it right and learn from it so we never make the same mistake again but its essential our reflection on the failure is very specific. The key to success is being measured and contained, so looking at failure in a generic way doesn’t promote the learning we need.
Unfortunately people sometimes make a mistake and become so immersed in guilt and shame that they become anxious and stressed and build a fear of failure. They then don’t do anything because they think they might get it wrong, lose their confidence and become risk averse. A manager seeing this should act to provide the support that allows the person to build their confidence back up so they can revert back into resilient team members.
Many high profile people have had amazingly successful careers after initial failure and their following actions. Some people even make a success out of their failures, Nick Leeson and Gerald Ratner for example. For them, failure was just the start of their next success and this is something we all need to realise. Getting something wrong is not the end of the journey. Putting it right and coming back stronger makes failure just a small bump in the road to ultimate success.