2018: When Failing Forward Is Not A Headplant

Submitted by Vivid Sydney

17 May 2018

"Failing forward" is the new business speak for daring to try.

But no matter how many times we hear that failing makes us better, faster, stronger, the very word still leaves most people cringing at the concept. Yes, we need to develop a healthy acceptance of small daily failure to be less risk-adverse and to realize our innovative potential, but lets not pretend that facing failure is easy! Here are four simple steps to rethink failure and convert that trepidation into savvy sangfroid.


1. CV of Failure

Last year award-winning leadership coach Rey Castellanos asked me to write my CV of Failure. The concept was confronting but about fifteen minutes of hell no I started writing….and writing. Three pages in, recollecting all the times I had made bad judgments, been in the wrong place at the wrong time or simply been beaten by somebody more skilled, I realised just how much I have attempted in my career to date. Writing your CV of Failure is a hugely liberating experience. Sharing it is even better! Grinning like the Cheshire Cat, I sent my CV to family, then to select friends who passed it on to their friends. Rey uploaded it on his Fail Forward website and now the world knows how many times I've fallen flat and jumped back up. Sharing is cathartic and as Einstein observed, "failure is success in progress". For kids, the CV of Failure is a chance to hear the stories their parents are less likely to tell, the stories that make us human and have us shaking our heads in sympathy. Writing a CV of Failure also reminds you of what you are not good at – so that you don't make that same mistake again (or in my case, again and again). This may be the most exhilarating thing you do all week!


2. Reframe "Failure"

The original meaning of "failure" was to "cease supply" yet we know that the lessons from every failed venture help us grow. Clearly we need a new word for "fail" that demonstrates the progress we are making. In basketball, a player who retrieves a ball after a botched goal is awarded a rebound. Let's take "rebound" and make it our own. Every time something doesn't go according to plan, name it a rebound, refer to it with others as a rebound, and take at least ten minutes to dissect the results and list the ways you can use them to move forward.


3. Practice Makes Imperfect

Which is OK. All the great innovators failed prolifically. As Thomas Edison put it, "I haven't failed, I've just found 10,000 ways that wont work". Be like da Vinci and Picasso, and spend 5-10 minutes a day trying something new. I have an almost daily routine that forces me to read about technology or science I don't understand for five minutes, then spend the next five minutes thinking hard to relate that innovation to the work I am currently doing. I can rarely find a connection – but that's the point. One day this exercise could bring my next light bulb moment – but don't hold your breath. In the meantime, it keeps my brain fresh.


4. Find Your People

A good quote will lift your spirit AND give you a stash of wise and pithy lines for your Insta account. Dig around the internet for the people you admire. Chances are they will have delivered a good line on resilience and rebounding. Keep these words close and share them with others. We are all in this together! Here are five of my favourites:

  1. "Success is most often achieved by those who don't know that failure is inevitable"Coco Chanel
  1. “Ride boldly lad and never fear the spills....”Banjo Patterson
  2. “We need to accept that we won’t always make the right decisions, that we’ll screw up royally sometimes – understanding that failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of success.”Arianna Huffington
  3. "It doesn't matter how far you might rise — at some point, you are bound to stumble. Because if you're constantly doing what we do — raising the bar — if you're constantly pushing yourself higher, higher, the law of averages predicts that you will, at some point, fall. And when you do, I want you to know this, remember this: There is no such thing as failure — failure is just life trying to move us in another direction." – Oprah Winfrey's speech at the Harvard commencement class of 2013

And finally – the oracle says it best:

  1. "The fall is not a failure. The fail is to stay fallen"Socrates 

A rebound mindset that embraces uncertainty and setback is an essential part of activating your creative and innovative potential. Understand the value of the rebound, congratulate yourself for having a go, and move on. In the timeless words of Dr Seuss, "when things start to happen, don't worry. Don't stew. Just go right along. You'll start happening too!"


Sally Dominguez is repeating her sell-out Vivid Sydney Ideas event: Innovation Catalyser: Speed Dating for Idea Development - a mixer for Innovators and Ideas, on May 31 in partnership with Stone & Chalk.


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