The Mindful Life™ Blog

How Failure Leads to Success at Work by Kristen Race PhD, MindfulLifeToday.com "Perfectionism, or striving for flawlessness and setting (and reaching) high performance standards, actually stifles innovation at work. Employees who strive for perfection don’t take as many risks, and risk-taking is the very fuel of creativity and innovation. Here are five ways you can let go perfectionism so that you can achieve success like never before."

How Failure Leads to Success at Work

Innovation comes from creativity and risk-taking. It comes from trying something new despite the possibility of failure. Innovative companies like Coca Cola, Netflix, Amazon, Madison Reed, Proctor & Gamble, Google, TATA, and Supercell actually thrive on this type of failure. It’s the seed of their success.

“If we’re not making mistakes, we’re not trying hard enough,” says Coca-Cola’s CEO, James Quincey.

Do you work in fear of making a big mistake? Does that fear hang over your head and drive your decisions? Do you find yourself “playing it safe” so that you don’t have to pick up the pieces of a major failure? Most people work this way in an attempt to keep their jobs and maintain status quo. But it’s stifling innovation. It sounds counterintuitive—and probably feels risky—but failure (which means risk-taking) is what leads to real success.

Perfectionism, or striving for flawlessness and setting (and reaching) high performance standards, actually stifles innovation. People who strive for perfection don’t take as many risks, and risk-taking is the very fuel of creativity and innovation. If this sounds like you or your company, here are five ways you can let go of your tendency to always get it right so that you can achieve success like never before.

1) Create a model.

If you’re thinking, “This sounds great, but we’re so used to rewarding success, how can this even work?” you’re not alone. To shift your organization’s focus from rewarding those who never make mistakes to one that encourages “smart failure,” create a model that helps them feel safe to take risks.

Show your team how to “fail fast.” Allow team members to stretch their ideas on a small scale at first. Test idea viability early with small groups and minimal input. Over time, you’ll learn which ideas hold the most weight and can be advanced to further development. And you’ll establish a model that shows people how to get started.

MailChimp’s motto is “Listen hard, change fast.” Aynn Collins, MailChimp’s Director of Talent Strategy, says, “We’ve learned that you can’t change fast without making mistakes along the way. Being okay with failure is part of our DNA.”

2) Set the example.

Leaders at the top must walk the talk for this failure mindset to take hold. The leadership should set the standard for smart failure. If this practice is new in your company, start at the top. Leaders can create and test a model, making modifications as they figure out what works and what doesn’t.

At Spanx, Founder Sara Blakely encourages others to fail by bringing up her own failures often. “Growing up, my father used to ask my brother and me what we had failed at,” she says. “He would celebrate the failures, saying ‘Congratulations. Way to go!’”

3) Reward risk-taking.

Most companies reward success. Bonuses and performance reviews are often based solely on markers of success—revenue goals, new client acquisitions or simply getting the job done right. Employees are encouraged to do anything BUT fail.

Instead, employees must be encouraged to take calculated risks with the aim of moving the company’s brand or mission forward. Add a category to your semi-annual or annual review that includes the category of risk-taking. Be clear about the expectations—the risk-taking must align with the vision and values of the company.

4) Reflect.

The biggest benefit from failure and mistake-making is the learning involved. Thorough reflection must be embedded into the failure process. What lessons were learned from the failure? What worked? What didn’t? What could have happened differently? How is the failure actually a success? Did the model work for this failure or does it need to be revised? Every failure should be reflected on. How might your organization fail better?

Our Mindfulness and the Workplace course starts in less than 2 weeks on February 9. Enroll now, or schedule a tour of the course to discover how it can help your entire team increase productivity, improve resiliency to stress, and boost overall well-being.

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