Failure is not only an option it is imperative. Growing up as a young boy in central Pennsylvania I quickly fell in love with the sport of baseball. More specifically the Philadelphia Phillies. Every second I had the chance, my brother and I would be out in the yard throwing and hitting ball. Over the years our play moved from the back yard to a little league field. After little league came teeners, high school ball and finally college. One of my favorite coaches in college was a guy by the name of Mike. In fact, he was my pitching coach. He use to always say, “You’re going to make mistakes while pitching, have a short memory, learn from them and move on.” I use to laugh! One night in a fairly significant game I found myself on the mound. In preparation for the game, Mike had been telling me all week that our opponents star player could crush high fast balls and hanging curve balls. So, I took his advice. The first two times he came to bat I was super intentional about my pitches. Placement, position and speed was all taken into account. I struck him out both times. Now, the third time he came to the plate, I wasn’t so intentional. Just before he stepped into the batter’s box, Mike yelled from dugout, “Don’t get sloppy.” I still remember hearing Mike, and thinking in my head, this guy can’t touch anything I have to throw at him. Rather than mess around, I’m just going to throw three fast balls past this guy and be done. As hard as I could throw, I released my fastball high in the zone. Let me just say, I have never seen a ball hit so far in person. This homerun would have went out of Yellwstone! It wasn’t just a home run, my left fielder didn’t even move. As the ball left the bat I turned, watched it clear the fence, the outfield stadium seats, the road on the other side of the stands, and finally land on a house roof on the other side of the road. It was close to 500ft. Mike yelled out, “The harder you throw, the farther they go!”
This past week while reading Open Leadership by Charlene Li I was struck by the concept of Google’s amazing failure machine. More specific to there motto: “Fail fast, fail smart.” Within this motto, failure is not only an option, it is essential for creative process to move forward. Without failure and subsequently what we learn from each respective failure we become cautious and stagnant. While reading the following four actions emerged as keys to becoming an “open leader” willing to foster an environment of learning though failure.
Acknowledge that failure happens… None of us are perfect. At some point we are all going to fail. Realizing this truth, being willing to laugh at yourself helps free others around you to acknowledge this as well. Often, pride keeps us from admitting our shortcomings and at times even taking risk. Sometimes we are gripped with the fear of failure, causing us to not take risk. Without risk, we become stuck.
Encourage dialog to foster trust… Communication is key to learning from mistakes. A healthy culture encouraging risk is free to talk about the wins as well as the losses. Open critique is not seen as threatening, but rather a tool for sharpening. It is here where community begins to sharpen ideas, concepts and true greatness can emerge from.
Separate the person from the failure… Failure by all is inevitable. Truly great creators fail many times over, learning from each mistake. Too often we equate failure with the person. In these cases we begin to stifle or shut down the creative process. Open leadership requires a healthy differentiation between the leader/creator and their failures. Just because an idea failed, does mean the person is not valuable.
Learn from your mistakes… Well, Mike looked at me from the dugout, “He yelled, what did you learn?” I knew exactly what he meant. He didn’t have to tell me. Two innings later, I faced the gentlemen who placed my last pitch to him in orbit. This time, I went back to the plan, applying what I learned. Five pitches later, he struck out.
Nine innings, many little mistakes, one big mistake, failure was an option if learned from, one big win!!!