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Do you fuel a fear of failure?

Business does not reward failure, and you will not find many defeats documented in business or history books.  Yet the philosophy of science is based on creating a theory and then attempting to test it or prove it wrong. If no-one had the courage to propose a new theory and potentially be proven wrong, we would have no progress. As technology progressed and measurements improved, even once accepted theories have finally fallen by the wayside. Newton’s theory of gravity and the then theory of light failed to explain Mercury’s orbit and the consistent value of the speed of light. Both were later explained more completely by Einstein’s theories of relativity and these revolutionised our understanding of nature.

Failure is also vital to all human learning and development. Babies would never learn to walk if they did not stand up and topple over, get up and try and try again. Motivation is fed by being “in flow”, a state that is only arrived at when there is a fine blend of being stretched to the point where you just might succeed, but might also fail.

Therefore, the fear of failure in business promotes behaviour that seriously limits learning, progression and innovation. Staff are either too afraid to attempt novel projects, or only propose modest incremental changes to the existing status quo. Most organisations focus reward on success, but recent psychology proves that best way to motivate people is reward their effort not what they achieve. So, make yourself two promises this year:

  • If you want to support innovation, when you are reviewing the bids for your project, don’t just consider the safe projects, make sure you have a balance of projects that might fail.
  • If you want your staff to really learn and progress, support their daring projects; reward them for how hard they tried to make them work.