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Since childhood, we have been conditioned to try to avoid failure at all costs. No one wants to fail academically or socially in school, and certainly, no one wants to fail professionally. We see failure as something to be ashamed of, instead of seeing it as we should: as an opportunity to learn and grow.

The truth is: we have all failed, and we will all fail again. What matters is how we fail. We should try new ideas, take occasional risks and push our limits. If we succeed the first time, wonderful; if we don’t, we should take the lessons we learned from our false starts and apply them to our future endeavors. Committing to employee development means that we must make an ongoing effort to expand our knowledge, skills and talents, and part of this process involves failing occasionally.

Chris Brogan, president of Human Business Works and a well-established business consultant and writer, embraces this idea, writing in his blog that we should “fail often, fail fast and learn”:

Many innovations have come through failure. Post-It notes came about because of glue that didn’t set right. Sam Walton was told he couldn’t make up his own sales at his Ben Franklin store so he quit and founded Wal-Mart. Henry Ford ran two automobile companies that failed before he got it right.

Edison said, “If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”

Failure is a beautiful thing. It leads to more chances to try something new.


Employee Development Through Failure

If you tried something new and it didn’t work out, don’t beat yourself up about it. Learn from it.

1. Put aside your ego and be honest about failures.

Chris Brogan’s “fail fast” concept is that if you get your mistakes out of the way early in the process, it is much easier to get back on track and work toward success. If you realize an idea  is doomed to fail early on, don’t keep plugging away at it out of stubbornness or pride. Stop, reevaluate and adapt your original idea so it is better and stronger.

2.  Write down what you learned.

After a failed attempt, take the time to record your observations about what happened. What went right? What went wrong? What would you do differently next time? What did you learn from the experience? What are your next steps? If you worked with others on the project, do this employee development exercise individually and then share your thoughts as a group.

3. Accept and move on.

Failing is disappointing. Show yourself some empathy, acknowledge the disappointment and be confident that you won’t make the same mistake twice. Move on to the next project, using the knowledge you just gained.

How do you deal with failure? How do you use it for employee development?

Learn about EDSI’s Powerful Choices course.

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