Fail Fast: Embrace Failure to Encourage Success
Fear of failure can hold you back from learning and creating new things. This is true in many aspects of life, including the professional.
Bill Littlefield shared a story on the NPR sports show Only a Game about how coaching style affects joy, which affects skill development. When he was a kid, he was on a Little League team where the coach yelled at and removed players who made errors. This created an environment where the kids were afraid of making mistakes, so they lost out on opportunities to improve their skills.
In contrast, in his late twenties Littlefield joined an adult fast-pitch softball league where people took the game seriously but didn’t punish mistakes. This environment allowed people to improve, he says:
I’d risen to my level of relative competence. But the beginning of my rise to that level came when I relaxed and discovered I could hit pretty well when I wasn’t afraid to fail.
Creating an environment where it’s safe to fail sends a message that progress toward mastery is as important as, if not more important than, achieving mastery. While a leader who encourages a growth mindset may not have a team that is composed entirely of stars, she will have a team where everyone is performing at their best.
And it’s not just about skill mastery. Concerns about failure also can hold us back when we need to generate new ideas. Author and professor Adam Grant points out that fear of failure leads us to pass over our boldest ideas. However, when people reflect on their lives, they usually wish they could go back and change what they didn’t do. “Ultimately, what we regret is not failure, but the failure to act,” Grant writes. This is true whether you are being creative or trying to master a new skill.
The confluence of the themes of doing what you love, working toward a goal, and not fearing failure resonate with the points Angela Duckworth makes in her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Practice helps, directed practice with a focus on improving is better, and if you are doing something you enjoy, the effort will seem more effortless.
Failure happens. Agile teams often have a principle of failing fast, which is about creating an environment where failures with a measured degree of risk are seen as essential to progress and improvement. Don’t fear failure. Measure it, embrace it, and watch change happen.