Emotional Intelligence

The Wisdom of Learning from Failure

Never let the fear of striking out get in your way.” ~ Babe Ruth

“We are programmed at an early age to think that failure is bad,” wrote Amy Edmondson in a 2011 article in the Harvard Business Review. “That belief prevents organizations from effectively learning from their missteps.”

But how do organizations create an environment in which people can freely admit to failures and at the same time avoid blame and react constructively to those failures, while avoiding an “anything goes” mentality?

As Edmondson points out, “The slogan ‘fail often in order to succeed sooner,’ would hardly promote success in a manufacturing plant.”

So: How to learn from failure? Edmondson suggests three remedies:

  • reduce the stigma of failure by avoiding the blame game,
  • thoroughly analyze the causes of that failure and then
  • “dig in and discover the wisdom gained in it,” and actually produce failure through systematic experimentation, the better to learn from it.

Does this mean that efficient and timely production, regarded by many executives as the only sure path to success, should be ignored?

Not necessarily. In another article, Edmondson says that, in our increasingly knowledge-based economy, “even flawless execution cannot guarantee enduring success.” Instead, she suggests, supervisors must encourage new ideas and experimentation with those ideas, risking failures today that can bring greater success tomorrow.

In order to strengthen your courage to fail in order to succeed, you should address these three things:

  1. Define what success is for you.
  2. Learn to strengthen your courage.
  3. Become a master of your fear of failure.

Together, these approaches are more effective than any one by itself. You can be successful, even masterful at any or all of the techniques that we’ll be covering in these blogs. You just need to commit to doing them until you become a master of them.

Take a moment and ask yourself these questions – and answer them honestly.

  • What is success?
  • What is success in your professional life? Can you define it in detail? Do you know why you define success this way?
  • What do you want to be most proud of? Can you define this in detail?

I’d love to hear what you say, and how you feel about these answers. Thanks for sharing.


For questions about this post or for information on becoming a fearless leader, contact Dr. Cathy Greenberg and The Fearless Leader Group at (888) 320-1299 or by email at hello@fearlessequalsfreedom.com.

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