Three Big Reasons Not to Run From Failure

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“The greatest teacher, failure is.” -- Yoda

My third grade teacher, Miss Henderson, was wrong about failure. Most of us go to great lengths to avoid failure…at all costs. It’s no wonder. They drill it into us that failure is bad. But, if we dig a bit deeper, we may discover our fear of failure tangled with our fear of being rejected. We make it about us and not about the people that we are trying to serve. I’ve written before about the power of Target Fixation (you go where you look). Once we take our eyes off of the people we serve and put them on ourselves, we can become more concerned about risk than we are about results.

When I teach workshops around the country, one of the concepts that we tackle is problem-solving under pressure. As a disaster physician, I’ve been in many intense, high-pressure scenarios. When it matters most, I use a problem-solving strategy that I’ve named Disaster-Improv. It is a cyclical process of SEE, SORT, and SOLVE. SEE whats going on. SORT out the priorities. SOLVE the problem. SEE what happened. SORT out the new priorities. SOLVE the problem. There have been plenty of times when things got worse before they got better. Let’s take a look at three different levels of failure through the lens of what Carol Dweck calls a fixed mindset and a growth mindset (See Mindset: the New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck). The fixed mindset considers failure as final; the growth mindset considers it as feedback.

The Impact of Failure on Me

Fixed Mindset

When faced with failure, a fixed mindset fuels the fires of self-doubt which can spread faster than a California wildfire with devastating consequences. Self-doubt can lead to convergent thinking which kills creativity and stifles the ability to adapt which can lead to further failure. Will Rogers said it best, “The road to success is dotted with many tempting parking spaces.”

Growth Mindset

When failure happens, and I’m using a growth mindset, the question becomes “How can I learn from this to be more successful the next time around (the cyclical learning process). Armed with a growth mindset, I maintain my ability to see with a divergent thinking perspective. In other words, I can still see with a wide angle lens that increases the likelihood that I’ll come up with a creative solution. I also become more perseverant over time because I’m not bogged down with self-doubt. I look for opportunities to learn and refine my solutions.

The Impact of Failure on My Team

Fixed Mindset

When I approach failure with a fixed mindset, it is contagious. My entire team can rapidly become derailed, discouraged and disengaged. When we focus on the failure, our vision becomes blurred.

Growth Mindset

When I approach failure with a growth mindset, my team is more willing to take risks, more creative, and more likely to keep their eye on the goal.

The Impact of Failure on Those We Serve

Fixed Mindset

When I approach failure with a fixed mindset, those whom I serve suffer the most.

Growth Mindset

When I approach failure with a growth mindset, my team and I will eventually make an impact. It may not always be ideal, but we can send a strong message of commitment and care when we stay engaged, when we are willing to take risks, and when we don’t give up.

How About You?

Next time failure hits you in the face, consider Yoda’s advice: “The Greatest Teacher, failure is.” Lean in. Be willing to fail. It’s not about you anyway.

I welcome your feedback. Let me know if you are interested in a Disaster-Improv workshop where I’ll teach you some of the techniques that the CIA uses to solve problems.


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