An Essential Characteristic of Winning Cultures: Allowing for Failure

Musician Bono said “My heroes are the ones who survived doing it wrong. Who made mistakes, but recovered from them.”

I think that speaks volumes as to what truly defines success. It’s not people or companies who have gotten everything right through either extreme caution or extreme luck—it’s people or companies who have taken risks, made some mistakes, and learned from them to come back stronger, more informed and ready to take the next risk to move forward.

Too many companies make the mistake of being averse to any and all risk.  That creates a formation of bureaucracy which can hurt the company culture. Companies that want to achieve greatness have to be able to attract and retain innovators.  A culture that is risk-averse and discourages talent to experiment for fear of failure will not be able to maintain and groom the innovators they need to be successful.

I once heard a great analogy that has stuck with me for years…The fear of failure is like a wet blanket that extinguishes the fire of innovation. That is a perfect way of describing it—and companies must ensure they work hard to keep that wet blanket at bay. After all, ideas and solutions are very rarely successful in their first iteration. Success is an evolutionary process of failing then refining…in other words: failure is an incubator of success.

When I look at the way Service Express has chosen to do things, I am confident that the success we have found has come as a direct result of the clear and intentional process we have set to allow our team license to “fail forward.”

All failure is not created equal. In order to find success in failure, you must minimize the effects of failure and scale success.  To do that, you have to start small and when failure happens, you must be able to reexaminereengineer and redeploy. Conduct a post-mortem, make adjustments and try it again, only smarter. Those who succeed learn from the experiences of failure and engineer a smarter way.

In order to make history, leaders must intentionally create cultures that encourage risk, embrace failure and scale success.