Why Is It Okay To Fail?

Thomas Edison is reported to have once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Personally, I would rather my staff ask for forgiveness rather than permission and I actively promote this decision making model throughout the organization. Very few decisions should be made with the flip of a coin. As long as a logical methodology is used for the decision, I want the team to collectively make as many decisions as possible and at the lowest level of the organization. This promotes their buy-in to the action plan and gives them a stake in the results.

I would rather make ten decisions in a week knowing that:

• Seven of them may be mostly correct and provide some benefit
• Two of them may be off course and need correction
• One of them may be wrong and in retrospect, may even look like a silly idea

To implement this culturally requires developing a significant level of trust in the organization. A monitoring process must be put in place that provides rapid feedback on the decisions. This can be daily or weekly flash reports or the use of dashboards on the computer desktop. The staff should focus on the decision making process and learn from each of the misses. It is important with each miss to look at the underlying premises upon which the decision was based.

To promote risk taking in the organization I like to share the following excerpt from Teddy Roosevelt’s 1915 speech at the Sorbonne:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

While there is certainly disappointment in the organization when a decision turns out wrong a good manager will use this as a coaching opportunity. If all team members are asked to view the business process objectively and be allowed to participate equally in the data gathering and brainstorming processes, the most effective decisions will be made. A big mistake made by senior managers is to not bring in those employees that are closest to the activities related to the decision. Doing so ensures all the right variables have been included. Additionally, by sharing the decision making process at the lowest possible organizational level there is a higher likelihood the recommended solution will actually be implemented and supported.

This is simply about ownership and accountability. Employees crave this more than most managers can imagine. The keys are creating the right culture, training on the data gathering and decision making processes and coaching through the course corrections.

About the Author

William Mince

William Mince is an experienced public company executive who has successfully grown organizations through organic development of new product lines and acquisition of both public and private entities. He has been on the due diligence and integration team for over twenty-five acquisitions. He is a results driven leader with significant operational and margin improving successes. He is also the author of Up from the Crowd.