Month: January 2017

Here’s why your new year’s resolution should be to fail more…

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Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 09.20.00Last week we ran our first workshop using Improv techniques to spur on innovative behaviours in one of London’s top PR firms. It was a great event and reminded me of one of the most important areas we advise companies on at the moment, and one of my favourite learning points from Improv: embracing failure.
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Most of the workshops I’ve run in the last three years have included at least a partial focus on innovation and the need to do things differently in an ever-changing world. I’ve spoken to many organisations that struggle to unleash the innovative capability they know they have in their workforce, and struggle even more to understand why. The answer in most instances is fear of failure.
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In high performance cultures, failure is not an option. And yet, when we embark on the process of innovation, failure is pretty much a guaranteed stop along the way to success. Just think of all the great inventors of our time – James Dyson, Patricia Bath, Hedy Lamar – all of them failed many times before they succeeded.
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It begs the question, would their great inventions have been realised if they were working in your organisation? Or would they have been thwarted at the early stages because they challenged conventional ways of working, or because failure is to be avoided at all costs?
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So, how do we make peace with failure in organisations?
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Well, here’s where the techniques of Improv really come in.
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When you’re about to go on stage without a script, you MUST be ready for failure because it’s inevitable. At some point, one of you will call another actor by the wrong character name or accidentally contradict a ‘truth’ that has been created in another scene. What I’ve learned most in this context is that it’s not the failure itself that is important, but the reaction we have to it. Whether it’s to call it out as part of the humour, “I must say, I find it quite passive aggressive that you continually refer to me by the wrong name,” or to weave it into the story somewhere further down the line. In doing so, we turn the failure into a success, just not the one we had originally conceived of. This is what my Improv colleagues Steve Roe and Max Dickins refer to as pivoting failure into success. And to prove that this truly does work in the business world, they cite many examples including that of Instagram which was originally created as a way of mapping the world through photographs, but failed in its original vision and soon became used in the way we know it now, to share photos and create connections between people.
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If we want our teams and organisations to be innovative, then we have to get better at creating cultures in which people are liberated from their fear of failure. How do we do this? First, by sense checking the processes and practices that influence people’s behaviour: does our performance management approach allow for failure as a learning point, or is all failure career-limiting? Second, we must practice the behaviours that enable us throw ourselves into a new idea, that give us the confidence to try something new with our team and that make us feel comfortable in the unknown. These are the behaviours that we’re helping people practice through Improv: stepping into the unscripted world, trusting yourself, and running towards failure as an opportunity for a success you hadn’t yet conceived of.