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Resonant Frequencies And Failurephobia

Failure

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I once had a boss who said "failure is not an option". In this rather sobering post, Jeff Jarvis quotes Craig Newmark who, upon returning from a recent trip to the UK has commented on an apparent culture of failurephobia amongst UK business. In Silicon Valley, says Newmark, failure is just a phase of ones career. I'm not surprised about that, but is failure really that stigmatized in the UK? God I hope not.

Jarvis talks about how granting the license to fail enables the courage to innovate. It is (of-course it is) a cultural thing, so cultures that don't allow failure equally don't tolerate risk. But the courage comes from the individual. I believe that the capacity to originate great ideas exists within everyone in an organisation, but I also believe that there are some people that positively thrive on it. People who might not have the word 'creative' in their job title but who are nonetheless creative thinkers, generative, and bothered enough to go out of their way to create something that wasn't there before.

Business, and especially big business, should be openly embracing these people wherever they sit in their organisations (and now more than ever), but somehow I doubt that that often happens. It's not just about creating the space and taking the risks, it is as much about how a culture defines success as how it handles failure. Too narrow or inflexible a definition does not enable the courage it takes to do something different. As Jeff says, success is as much about not holding perfection as the standard of success as it is about the need to risk and fail.



There's a quote in this wonderful post, written by Jane Young of Scrmblr (HT to JMAC for the link):

"Everything has a natural frequency of vibration, i.e. its resonant frequency, including us. Just as a glass smashes when you hit a certain note, so too do we resonate at certain frequencies, seeking and finding meaning in different experiences, clans and value-sets."

There is something here about organisations finding (or enabling) the right 'resonant frequency' for this kind of talent to flourish. Ideas are nothing without action. But they are also nothing without the culture to enable people permission to stand up, stand out, take risks and maybe, just maybe, fail now and then.

I know this has been said before. But its worth saying again. As Jane says, sometimes you have to lose yourself to find yourself. So here's to the crazy ones…

14 responses to “Resonant Frequencies And Failurephobia”

  1. Rob @ Cynic Avatar
    Rob @ Cynic

    I’m a big believer in the confidence to fail – I am also a byproduct of that having been trained at HHCL – but I also think it is very easy for people to say this sort of thing without accepting or acknowledging the implications it has on business.
    Sure, it can lead to brave new thinking/doing/exploring … but it would be foolish to think it doesn’t come at some cost.
    Now we would all probably agree which has the best long term interests of the people and company at heart, but in a World where companies budget by week – let alone by quarter – is it really surprising that only certain industries and categories happily invest in R&D [or should I call it ‘adventures in failure] when the reality is that I bet most industries could/would benefit from a bit of employee exploration.
    And before people [1] slag me off [2] call me a capatalistic bastard … I should remind folk that anyone who has a share in a company has to take some responsibility for this situation because as much as we all want to be in environments where we’re encouraged to ‘try stuff’, we also go off our bloody rockers when our few shares don’t make as much cash as we expect/want/demand.
    If we want to drive a holistic change in corporate attitudes towards exploration – regardless of industry or category – then we might be better off to start investing in the companies who already embrace this view rather than focus on the ones who continually make us cash through their strong distribution and cost effeciency management.
    As my favourite quote say’s: Anything is easy for the person who doesn’t have to do it.

  2. Rob @ Cynic Avatar
    Rob @ Cynic

    I’m a big believer in the confidence to fail – I am also a byproduct of that having been trained at HHCL – but I also think it is very easy for people to say this sort of thing without accepting or acknowledging the implications it has on business.
    Sure, it can lead to brave new thinking/doing/exploring … but it would be foolish to think it doesn’t come at some cost.
    Now we would all probably agree which has the best long term interests of the people and company at heart, but in a World where companies budget by week – let alone by quarter – is it really surprising that only certain industries and categories happily invest in R&D [or should I call it ‘adventures in failure] when the reality is that I bet most industries could/would benefit from a bit of employee exploration.
    And before people [1] slag me off [2] call me a capatalistic bastard … I should remind folk that anyone who has a share in a company has to take some responsibility for this situation because as much as we all want to be in environments where we’re encouraged to ‘try stuff’, we also go off our bloody rockers when our few shares don’t make as much cash as we expect/want/demand.
    If we want to drive a holistic change in corporate attitudes towards exploration – regardless of industry or category – then we might be better off to start investing in the companies who already embrace this view rather than focus on the ones who continually make us cash through their strong distribution and cost effeciency management.
    As my favourite quote say’s: Anything is easy for the person who doesn’t have to do it.

  3. Rob @ Cynic Avatar
    Rob @ Cynic

    This might be of interest …
    http://tinyurl.com/2e65zz
    … or not.
    Proves I agree with your point though. 🙂

  4. Rob @ Cynic Avatar
    Rob @ Cynic

    This might be of interest …
    http://tinyurl.com/2e65zz
    … or not.
    Proves I agree with your point though. 🙂

  5. charlie gower Avatar
    charlie gower

    I’ve written tons about failing. Failure for me is essential. You learn far more by being wrong than being right.
    In jobs where much thinking is required (mine is like that) then you spend quite some time making sure you’re right. When someone proves you’re wrong it’s like being smacked with a fish. I pray for people to prove me wrong.

  6. charlie gower Avatar
    charlie gower

    I’ve written tons about failing. Failure for me is essential. You learn far more by being wrong than being right.
    In jobs where much thinking is required (mine is like that) then you spend quite some time making sure you’re right. When someone proves you’re wrong it’s like being smacked with a fish. I pray for people to prove me wrong.

  7. Rob @ Cynic Avatar
    Rob @ Cynic

    I agree with you Charlie, I’m just saying there’s implications in that approach – even if in terms of what it can potentially produce is magnificence.
    I’m all for it – always been fortunate to work in places who have embraced it – which is why as I become an old fart, I encourage my guys to fail with majesty, but I also know that to do that requires buy in from more than just the individual, but the wider team, the company and the client.
    And then there’s the issue of who determines whether something has failed or not. Sure in areas like medicine and aeronautical design, it becomes apparent quite quickly – but what about advertising or design? Who has the right to say you have failed? Of course I acknowledge there are a bunch of brilliant and experienced people out there – but who has the right to question in an industry where there rarely wrong ways, just lots of right ways?
    Just a thought …

  8. Rob @ Cynic Avatar
    Rob @ Cynic

    I agree with you Charlie, I’m just saying there’s implications in that approach – even if in terms of what it can potentially produce is magnificence.
    I’m all for it – always been fortunate to work in places who have embraced it – which is why as I become an old fart, I encourage my guys to fail with majesty, but I also know that to do that requires buy in from more than just the individual, but the wider team, the company and the client.
    And then there’s the issue of who determines whether something has failed or not. Sure in areas like medicine and aeronautical design, it becomes apparent quite quickly – but what about advertising or design? Who has the right to say you have failed? Of course I acknowledge there are a bunch of brilliant and experienced people out there – but who has the right to question in an industry where there rarely wrong ways, just lots of right ways?
    Just a thought …

  9. Jason Lonsdale Avatar
    Jason Lonsdale

    Great post, Neil!
    There are two things that this reminds me of: firstly, that Hewlett Packard have an internal competition for the best failure -they turned it from stigma to badge of honour. Lovely.
    Secondly is this Nike spot (one of my all-time faves):


  10. Jason Lonsdale Avatar
    Jason Lonsdale

    Great post, Neil!
    There are two things that this reminds me of: firstly, that Hewlett Packard have an internal competition for the best failure -they turned it from stigma to badge of honour. Lovely.
    Secondly is this Nike spot (one of my all-time faves):


  11. neilperkin Avatar
    neilperkin

    Thanks for the comments and links all.
    Rob – you make a good point, and one that I’ve written about before. I think often people forget that innovation is difficult in businesses that are focused on short-term targets to the detriment of the long-term win because under those rules it doesn’t look economically viable

  12. neilperkin Avatar
    neilperkin

    Thanks for the comments and links all.
    Rob – you make a good point, and one that I’ve written about before. I think often people forget that innovation is difficult in businesses that are focused on short-term targets to the detriment of the long-term win because under those rules it doesn’t look economically viable

  13. Daria Avatar
    Daria

    I’ve always wanted to introduce the “Fuck-ups” wall at my work places. but there was not too much interest in idea. 🙂 Without failures we would never learn, neither move forward…

  14. Daria Avatar
    Daria

    I’ve always wanted to introduce the “Fuck-ups” wall at my work places. but there was not too much interest in idea. 🙂 Without failures we would never learn, neither move forward…

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