Why its good to fail so you can succeed at work

By Dr Lynda Shaw, neuroscientist, business psychologist and change specialist.

Failure. A word we all dread.  Failure can make us feel less competent, confident or intelligent, yet it is inevitable. We have all experienced failure in our lives, and whilst in the short term it can be debilitating, it can also be a springboard to a new learning experience and can sometimes be life changing for the better.

Success and failure are considered opposites, but in fact they work hand in hand. Starting from infancy, we have all encountered failure and success. In order to learn to walk, we have to fall over a couple of times and through persistence, trial and error, we take our first steps and the rest is history. Throughout life we make plenty of mistakes at school, in relationships and throughout our careers, regardless of our experience or intelligence. Failure is part of being human and is impossible to avoid, but how we deal with failure will determine our success and how we grow and prosper.  The Beatles, J. K. Rowling and Thomas Edison are all known to have faced repeated rejection or failure before their extraordinary success.

Psychological research suggests that there are key traits to success, including a growth mindset, determination, resilience and psychological flexibility. A growth mindset relates to the belief that you can grow and learn if you work hard enough. It involves tenacity and conceptualises failure as a temporary condition. Determination is a combination of perseverance and passion and chasing goals and not letting setbacks stunt progress. Resilience allows us to have knockbacks but to be able to get back up on our feet and find a way through the difficulties by being positive and using our strengths.  Psychological flexibility is the ability to adapt to change using creativity and the ability to problem solve. All of these traits allow people to harness failure as a tool, enabling them to become more successful as a result.

So what should we do after we fail at something?  

  1. ACCEPT WHAT HAS HAPPENED – It is not as easy as it sounds, we have a culture of making excuses or brushing things under the carpet. Own what happened. Once you have admitted a failure, then there is the opportunity to move on and grow. Failure is usually just a step in the journey.
  2. BE OPEN AND HONEST – Creating a transparent, open and honest workplace culture is key to ensuring that employees learn from each other’s successes and failures and will in turn reduce the possibility of us concealing our mistakes.
  3. KEEP IT IN PERSPECTIVE. The fact that you made a mistake or failed at something will probably upset you more than the people around you.  Talk about what’s happened with trusted colleagues, friends and family.  Try to keep it in context and perspective.
  4. GIVE YOURSELF TIME TO HEAL – Whether you need 30 minutes or a couple of days, give yourself some time to heal and to feel what you are feeling, but also try not to overly dwell on it or ruminate for too long. Forgive yourself, let it go, brush yourself off and regroup. When you can, smile about it, and remind yourself that you have other successes to be proud of and that this failure can ultimately have a positive outcome that you may just not be able to see yet.
  5. CREATE A PLAN OF ACTION for how to resolve, fix it or move on. Being more prepared gives you confidence and control. Success the second or third time round, will supersede any doubts you have about your abilities.
  6. LEAD BY EXAMPLE – Management should encourage openness, ideas and new solutions. It is important to act cohesively as an organisation and ensure that everyone understands failure in the same terms and to work as a team to fix any issues, so you can fully tap into the wealth of knowledge, talent, and experience your workforce has to offer.
  7. TRY FAST-FAILURE – Try something new quickly (that is likely to have flaws and some level of failure) and accept any failure that comes with it, make a change and repeat. This method is known to bring about innovation and success faster than normal because it achieves a desired result faster than perfecting the solution. This allows you to get feedback and iron out any obvious failures, or even completely cancel the idea if it is unlikely to succeed, without wasting as many resources.
  8. SHARE IDEAS – Have an open honest work culture where ideas are readily shared and constructive feedback is given. Encourage communication by adopting an open-door policy and celebrate successes and discuss failures openly without trying to hide mistakes. Tap into the wealth of knowledge, talent, and experience your workforce has to offer.
  9. HAVE A DRESS REHEARSAL EVEN BEFORE ANY SOFT OPENING/ LAUNCH – Allow things to go wrong, before its vital they don’t go wrong. This will give you more confidence in everything going right on the big day and to provide an opportunity for open and honest feedback internally prior to launch.
  10. TIME TO BE POSITIVE – Actively choose a positive mindset. If we think we can ultimately achieve our goal, we are far more likely to.

Article Author: Dr Lynda Shaw, neuroscientist, business psychologist and change specialist – web site link: www.drlyndashaw.com

About The Author


WORKSMARTPA – NEW IDEAS, NEW FRONTIERS The year 2021 sees our business celebrate 21 years of pa-assist.com - a community supporting office professionals since our very first newsletter way back in May 2000. As we look forward to greet a new world of change beyond the pandemic, we are extremely excited to announce a new brand; a new look; and some new directions for our much loved, long-standing pa-assist.com web site and communities to explore. It is time for change. To better reflect now what we do best for you, we have a new brand, web site and activities – a new name and web site that will be full of new ideas for a new business age and new working trends as we all seek to grow, expand and explore new frontiers.

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