Forget Failure, Experiment Instead!

Chemical Experiment

“Fail fast,” is the current mantra being promoted by so many.

More and more we’re being taught not to be afraid of failure. Furthermore, we’re bombarded by stories about entrepreneurs who have failed multiple times before finding that ‘magic formula’ and making their millions. Through these messages we learn that failing is not necessarily a negative thing to happen to us. Failure can provide us with some great lessons, whilst also helping us test and develop our character.

In spite of this however, it’s important to recognise that even the simple use of the term ‘failure’ creates a range of both conscious and unconscious reactions within us.

Failure = Threat

The first reaction that failure creates within us is a threat response. Any form of threat response naturally activates our physiological system to move toward fight of flight mode. That is, for many of us, no matter how brave we are, just hearing the term failure causes us to feel concerned about our survival resulting in us unconsciously preparing ourselves to respond. When we experience a perceived threat, our ability to respond effectively can be impacted, making us less effective in that moment.

Failure is Binary

The second reaction is one of reductionism. That is, by using the term failure we risk being reduced into a binary, dualistic perspective where we feel that we have either succeeded or failed. This impact of this dualism is that we do not then appropriately assess the situation to ascertain what within it has worked, and what has not.

Chemical Experiment

Time to Experiment

Moving beyond the simple statement of “fail fast” we can recognise that merely adopting the term of “failure” can actually hold us in a place that prevents us from living with more curiosity and using experimentation to our advantage.

Though we’ve rarely acknowledged it, right from the moment we were born we’ve been experimenting with the world. Through these experiments we’ve explored, mostly unconsciously, what will help us satisfy our wants and needs. When we experiment, we try things and then based on the response we get, we change our approach. This far more agile approach helps us take smaller more curious steps in our engagement with the world.

By adopting more of an experimental approach, we can not only eliminate the threat response associated with binary success/failure, but we can also be more open to assessing what worked and what didn’t in any experiment we applied.

“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Through adopting a focus on experimentation, we relax our need for absolutes and instead open ourselves to greater curiosity, openness and fulfilment. And with this way of leading and living, we can focus both on enjoying the journey as well as achieving the outcome.

“I’ve not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Thomas Edison

Something to consider…

Think of a time when you felt like you failed. What in that situation actually worked in spite of the overall outcome?

Something to try…

Next time you’re challenged by a major challenge, consider what experiments you might apply?

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