RSS Fail Forward

I recently benefitted from a very insightful conversation with a team member, Sarah M., who shared with me the concept of “failing forward.”  I asked Sarah if she wouldn’t mind defining this concept for me, in her own words, so that I could use it as the basis of a blog post.  Here is what she wrote:

“I once had someone tell me to fail fast, and fail forward.  So often we don’t move forward because of a fear of failure; we see failure as ontological, connected to our identity and who we are, as opposed to simply a failure to perform.  I am not a failure, but rather there is a missing action that is required to accomplish the desired outcome.  Failing forward allows you to see the gap between where you are and where you want to be.  This allows you to create the necessary actions needed to accomplish the goal.  Sometimes the gap can’t be seen unless it is revealed by failure.  If ‘I’ am not a failure, I have the ability to take bigger risks, move beyond my safe comfort zone and strive toward new goals.  Fail forward, it can be fun!”

I can’t help but be inspired by how well Sarah has articulated this concept, and to realize that this is the attitude she brings to her job every day.  My guess is that she carries this same perspective off the clock as well.   For me to hear a teammate share that her own performance expectation at work isn’t simply to be perfect in her daily activities, but to strive to be as significant as she can be, is profound.   The fact that Sarah understands there are valuable lessons to be learned from failing, tells me that she owns both the objective and the role she plays to achieve them. 

The implication to an individual who embraces this type of thinking is obvious to me.  They are more likely to be innovative in their approach to solving problems, demonstrate greater passion and initiative to achieve desired results and find more personal and professional fulfillment because they won’t be paralyzed in their drive to find success.   To paraphrase Sarah, because failure is neither an obstacle nor a personal shortcoming, it can be quantified simply as an achievement gap whereby each individual chooses their desired response. 

The implication to an organization who openly embraces the concept of failing forward is equally obvious to me.  This type of organization likely has low employee turnover, yields a high level of client satisfaction, and utilizes their creative competitive advantage to sustain long-term viability.

I appreciate Sarah for opening my mind to the concept of failing forward, and I encourage leaders and employees of all organizations to embrace this type of thinking.  History is filled with individuals who have failed in many different and significant ways.  It really comes down to an individuals’ attitude about how to deal with their adversity that allows them to fulfill their potential.  This isn’t just true at work; it’s true in life as well.

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Home About Archive Mitch HagstromMitch Hagstrom
Executive Vice President
Chief Banking Officer
Pacific Continental Bank

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