Wishing You the Gift of Failure

We sincerely hope that you fail at something in the future. No, really, we do. Maybe you’ll blow a job interview. Perhaps you’ll miss a deadline and lose an important client. Failure is not fun, but the occasional blunder can lead to deep learning, as well as higher performance and well-being in the future.

The classic psychologists knew this. Abraham Maslow, Viktor Frankl, and Carl Rogers all stressed the role of adversity in helping people to realize their full potential. Studies also show that minor hardships and misfortunes over the course of one’s life are important for later well-being (examples here, here, and here). Apparently, what doesn’t kill you, does makes you stronger.

But what if other people see you fail? Maybe it’s best to show other people only what you’re capable of now, rather than stick your neck out, try to get better at things, and then bomb publicly. If you agree with this, then you might have a performance goal orientation. Alternatively, people with a learning goal orientation aren’t afraid to make public mistakes if it means getting better at things. And they do – they eventually have have higher confidence, deeper learning, and higher performance. Check out Mindset by Carol Dweck on how individuals and organizations can develop stronger learning goal orientations.

So, how do you encourage employees to make mistakes, in a world of performance reviews and quarterly results? Some companies have found a safe way to set up their employees to fail, so to speak. It’s called error management training. This is where people are thrown into ambiguous situations with little information (and misinformation) and expected to solve complex problems. Frustrating? Yes. But they end up with high-level knowledge that can be applied to a wide range of new and complex situations – the kind the define our rapidly and radically changing workplaces.

Ultimately, Heliosophy can help you and your employees to meet your goals. But when you do fail or make mistakes, here are some hidden rewards that you can count on…

  • Higher confidence with more frequent performance attempts.
  • Opportunities to reflect on what went wrong, leading to personal insights.
  • Better control of your emotions during future challenges.
  • Deeper knowledge learned (due to the ‘ouch’ factor).
  • Stronger goal-setting skills in the future.
  • Recognizing what knowledge and skills need improvement.
  • More humility and empathy (e.g., for others’ misfortune).
  • Development of error-recovery strategies for future challenges.
  • Discovering and utilizing your strengths.
  • Greater motivation to practice what hasn’t been mastered.
  • Ability to endure longer periods of perseverance.
  • High-level expertise that can be adapted to future problems and situations.
  • Clear insights about whether you’re in the right job, career, etc.
  • Future higher performance and well-being.

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