Failure and Getting it Wrong

One of the most significant barriers to overcome when doing something in our communities is fear of failure and anxiety about getting it wrong

I have really struggled with this over the years. In part this has been my own problem but also we live in a society that doesn’t give much room for failure.

We only have to look at how much failure and mistakes, drives our media industry. We’re all it seems, queuing up at the newsagents to buy the papers that sensationalizes someone’s mistake and ridicules a person’s failure. Good news doesn’t sell they tell us, and they’re probably right. We all like to have a good gossip about our neighbours misfortune or what some evil, someone did to us. We are quick to tear down but less speedy to build someone up.

This, I believe creates a culture of fear. The worry of getting it wrong seeps into many aspects of public and private life. I work in politics half the week and there is a real sense of walking on a knife-edge sometimes. You are always just a tweet away from ruining yours or someone else’s career or being put on the front page of a newspaper. The more powerful we become, the more we raise our head above the parapet, the more likely we are to have it removed by a sniper of bad news.

If you have ever worked for a public sector organisation, you will probably have had to walk through this. Why isn’t there more innovation and creativity in public services, people ask? Well, it’s quite hard when every activity you do has to be risk assessed, three times over. These big institutions are accountable to you and there’s a sense that they can’t fail; and yes we do have to do all we can to safeguard against mistakes because failure could have terrible consequences but you know what, here’s the reality. Mistakes will ALWAYS be made. We are human and that’s just part of who we are, we make mistakes.

So what do we do about this? How can we still be brave, how can we step out if it means we may get it really wrong? How can we take risks and do something new or different?

Here some things you might want to think about

1) Stay small and under the radar: I have never been so free since leaving A Way Out. I’m running with all sorts of new ideas, new approaches and new ways of doing things and it’s having significant outcomes. But no one really knows about it. I haven’t set up a big organization. I don’t have big funders or a management board to be accountable to; I’m just getting on with it. I can make lots of mistakes every day if I like and it’s not that much of an issue.

2) Try failing.. a few times. Sometimes the best way to get over the fear of something is to do the thing you are scared of. I once went and held a snake at a snake farm even though I have a phobia of them. It worked for a while. Sometimes we need to fail. I love the Thomas Edison quote

“I have not failed, I’ve jut found 10,000 ways that wont work.”

Sometimes the only way we learn what works and what doesn’t is to fail and do something wrong, so go out and do something wrong, just try and learn from it if you can.

3) Never hold power too tightly. When we get power we have a tendency to want to cling to it. Don’t. Power can be just as dangerous as it is beneficial. Look how much we are seeing the abuse of power being exposed recently. We must handle power like I did with that snake, very, very carefully, understanding exactly what I was holding and being willing to give it back at any moment there was a sign it might turn on me.

4) Let go of yourself! We need a degree of self emptying to hold power and to risk it all. If we are too concerned with self preservation, we may never take the risks needed to step out. I like to snowboard, but if I’m too worried about hurting myself, I will never have the courage to throw myself down the mountain, it’s the same with taking risks and doing something new, sometimes we just need to let ourselves go regardless of the consequence. Let’s stop trying to save ourselves and just give ourselves away to something. What’s the worst that could happen?

Let me end with this quote from Micheal Jordan “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”

I hope this blog encourages you to try something you didn’t think you could. Please get in touch or leave a comment if you want to talk more about this.

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