• Scott McInnes

60 | Succeeding by failing

I was flicking through some old notes from the 2017 Pendulum Summit last night and one of my scribbles jumped out at me. ‘Failure is greatness waiting to happen’ It struck me that we’re not great at failing.

Failing is bad.

Failing means we’ve done something wrong.

Failure means that perhaps we aren’t as good as we - or, more importantly sometimes, other people - thought we were. Last week was the anniversary of the Apollo moon landing. Now don’t tell me that those guys didn’t fail! Of course they did - A LOT. But they kept going, they tried and tested and failed and tried again, a different or better way. Failure wasn’t seen as bad - it was seen as progress. Identifying what didn’t work was almost as important as finding out what did. Even as the three astronauts went down to the moon's surface, alarms were going off, computers overloaded and their planned landing spot was a boulder field. Remember that they didn’t know any of these things would go wrong because they’d never done it before - no-one had ever done any of it. They just had an organisation full of really good people in that control room and in all the supporting functions, each of whom was responsible for a specific part of that voyage into the unknown. Everyone kept their heads and did their jobs and, what happened as a result is still amazing to watch 50 years later. They had a simple purpose, 'To put a man on the moon' and they achieved it.

So, in organisations today we need to think about how failure is perceived - not bad, but good. If you’re not failing you’re not trying hard enough. But of course for that to happen, the culture has to be accepting of failure. It has to embrace it and hold it up as success - ‘We’ve identified another way that this WON’T work’. Organisations need to tell stories to their staff not just when things go well, but when they go badly, and what teams did to fix it. And leaders need to bring that culture to life in their teams. They need to initiate the conversations about about failure and agree with their teams what should happen when things don't go to plan. For me, key to success is talking it out and creating an atmosphere where team members don't cover up failure (VERY dangerous) but use it as an opportunity for themselves and the team to learn.

So the next time something goes wrong, get together, grab a cuppa and talk it out!!


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