These crazy days have required all of us to adapt in more ways than we ever imagined. We are changing the ways we work, study, shop, travel, play, and interact with each other. However, when we attempt something in a new way, we often feel incompetent, inadequate, and a fear of failure due to our lack of experience.
I don’t like to fail.
At work, we talk a lot about establishing a culture where people feel free to fail. We want people to feel free to innovate and create and attempt things they have never tried before. Disappointingly, despite the desire and communications, we struggle to develop that kind of culture. As I’ve thought about this, I’ve decided that I cannot blame the organization or the leaders for the lack of freedom to fail.
Failure carries a lot of negative weight.
A quick google search connects the word failure to others like mistakes, quitter, and lack of persistence, conviction, or discipline. Failure is also associated with a lack of thorough planning, fully thinking-it-through, or enough hard work.
With those negative implications, failure will never look appealing or acceptable. No matter how much freedom someone offers me, I do not want to fail.
On the other hand, I can iterate. I can attempt something, evaluate how it went, make corrections or adjustments, and then try again. That is not the same as failure.
To iterate is simply to repeat. Iterative design involves three steps: formulate, test, evaluate. An iterative process gets closer to the desired result by repeating the effort with necessary improvements. And typically, the more iterations, the better the eventual outcome.
Iteration is positive, progressive, and steps toward the goal.
Now when I think about trying something new, I think of it as an iteration. There is no pressure or expectation for getting it perfect the first time; it’s a first pass, an experiment. I anticipate evaluating, getting feedback, making changes, and improving the process. That feels like freedom.
Words are powerful. Maybe changing our message from “free to fail” to “free to iterate” will lighten the load for some people. It might take away the fear of stepping up, leaning in, speaking out, creating, trying something. It could foster new ideas and unheard-of-before ways of doing things that provide answers to our challenges.
If not, I’m willing to iterate and try something else.
How do you encourage innovation? What frees you to try new things?