Nov 27 2012

robrynders.com: Fear of Failure

Original post at http://robrynders.com/2012/11/fear-of-failure/

It’s funny how people react to things when they don’t understand them, or even worse, assume to understand something, when in reality they have no idea what they are talking about. Social media and blogging have provided a great opportunity for armchair quarterbacking. We can make assumptions without having to ever enter into someone else’s context to find out what the situation on the ground is. We can be our own experts instead of letting others be the experts of their own contexts. We can criticize from afar because “that will never work” or “I heard of someone trying that once and it didn’t work” or “we’ve never done it that way before!”

The crazy thing is, that many times, we’re right. That thing we criticize will end up going down in flames and then we can go back to the way things have always been.

Yet, life is often about failure and some of the best things in life happen as a result of failure.

Then again, we probably don’t fail often enough, because we are risk averse.

You can do all the research you want but you won’t know that something will work or not unless you take that initial risk and try it. Yet, fear paralyzes us, so it’s easier to criticize and tear down someone else’s work than to admit something new may be possible. Even worse, this paralyzing fear keeps us from trying our own ideas or following our own dreams. Tearing others down is just a way to avoid taking risk and exposing ourselves to criticism. Tearing others down is a great way to try and prevent the beautiful thing that might be created out of risk and failure.

Advent is coming upon us, a time when we recognize the light shining in the darkness, a time where we remember not to be afraid, a time when we remember that hope is stronger than fear.

It’s time to fail. Be not afraid.

UPDATE 11/28/12:

Apparently, I’m not the only one writing about failure, this week. Today, Sarika Bansal, offers a New York Times opinion piece titled, “The Power of Failure.” I’m sure she was totally inspired to write it after reading my post. In fact, she even uses United Methodist Communications as one of her examples. Anyway, here are a few good points from the article:

-“Not talking about [failure] is the worst thing you can do, as it means you’re not helping the rest of the organization learn from it,” said Jill Vialet, who runs the nonprofit Playworks.  “It gives [the failure] a power and a weight that’s not only unnecessary, but damaging.”  Vialet instead supports failing “out loud” and “forward,” meaning that the people involved in the failure should speak about it openly and work to prevent history from repeating itself.

-Others publish their failures for the world to see.  Engineers without Borders Canada, which creates engineering solutions to international development problems, publishes a “failure report” every year alongside its annual report.  “I only let the best failures into the report,” said Ashley Good, its editor. The examples that are published, she said, show people who are “taking risks to be innovative.”

-Building a culture of openness to failure takes time and consistent effort. Unfortunately, efforts to normalize failure can be set back by cautionary tales of failures gone wrong.

-In the majority of cases, however, failure in the social change world does not involve as many dollars or stakeholders, and admitting it can have a net positive impact on an organization.  Doing so can build institutional knowledge and create a culture where people are more open to taking risks.

About the author

Robert Rynders

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2012/11/fear-of-failure/

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