Good Failure (Part 3): Making Failure Fun

We can all relate to a certain “F” word that often accompanies failure. I am certain the word “fun” was not the first word that came to your mind. As I discussed in my first post in this 3-part series on failure, we as humans are hard-wired to avoid mistakes. Our self-preservation programming is set to avoid unnecessary risk.

This means when we experience failure, our minds and bodies trigger negative emotions in order to keep us fearful of further risks and mistakes. So why would I include “fun” as one of the three elements needed to make failure a building block to success?

The answer is two-fold. First, our negative connotations of failure often inhibit our ability to take the risks needed to achieve success. Without a culture that embraces failure, our teams and organizations will be stifled in their ability to take on the risks needed to invent new strategies, products, or visions. Going where no man has gone before may have worked for the Enterprise, but here on earth it takes courage and a deep cultural acceptance of failure. This is often the missing component which leads to failure acting not as a precursor to success but rather a path to more failures.

In my first two posts on failure, I described the necessity of two other “F” words: flexible and fast. In order for teams to ensure that failure is a positive, they must include mechanisms to identify mistakes quickly and have the organizational flexibility to change directions immediately. However, these two components can not exist if failures are hidden from the team or organization. Think of your current job. If you failed at a particular point in a project, would you stand up in front of the rest of the organization and shout out your failures? Do you feel empowered to admit major problems as soon as they occur? If you don’t, how can you, your team, or the organization quickly identify the wrong path and course correct quickly?

This is the second reason fun is an element to good failure. By building a positive culture around failure, we can reduce the risk that the mistakes and the lessons will remain hidden. However, achieving this type of culture that goes beyond just acceptance and truly embraces failure as a necessity of success is not easy. You have to overcome natural and historical tendencies to punish failure and celebrate only successes. You must find unique ways to celebrate those who try and fail.

A recent Michigan-born organization has created a way to help people celebrate failure. It is called Failure: Lab, and it is modeled after the popular TED talks. Individuals get on stage and talk about their failures. There are no happy endings. Success is not allowed. It is simply a forum to tell the story of failure. I like the idea because in order to minimize the stigma of failure, we must separate it from the lessons learned or the happy endings.

A simple poster hung by the water cooler won’t be enough to turn failure into success. Each of the three elements (fast, flexible, & fun) need to be in place throughout the organization. Failure is a fact of life. However, simply believing that all failure is good doesn’t help us position ourselves, our teams, or our companies for success. We must build purposeful strategies to focus on “good failure”. Hopefully, my three “f” words will help you avoid failure that costs time, resources, or the ability to innovate. If so, you will have a few new “f” words to apply in life.

Dave Seitz, Cofounder of Think Space, a unique and inspiring business meeting and retreat center. Follow Think Space on LinkedIN.