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How to see failure as an ally?

Today I wanted to talk to you about your relationship to failure. Because we do not all approach it in the same way, and yet, in an Agile setup, it is important to ask ourselves the question. Indeed, agility requires knowing how to adapt to change and constantly learning from mistakes, in order to be able to create a valuable product for customers. An Agile leader must know how to develop and demonstrate what is called a growth mindset, that is to say, his ability to continue to learn continuously, and help his teams in this direction too.

But failure can be scary. This week, I give you keys to help you better understand failure. Let’s go!

The different facets of failure

How do you define failure? How do you feel about it?

A failure is a negative result, compared to an attempt, whatever it is: trying to build something, to solve a problem, to launch a new product… A failure must be able to be measured, compared to an objective that you have set yourself, even informally. In itself, failure has no emotion, no feeling. It’s just a state x, which differs from a desired state y, which we did not reach this time.

The difficulties in overcoming a failure lie in the interpretation we make of it. This interpretation has also been built on the basis of the way we have been raised and educated, and forged by our various life experiences.

Some cultures will thus view failure as something negative. Failures could have been punished or blamed during childhood or adolescence. Other cultures may give a more positive reading of failure, and see it as a source of learning and a springboard for progress.

You have understood it, if you feel anxious about failing, it probably comes from these mental constructs that you have been carrying with you for a long time. If you have become aware of this and you realize that it does not help you much in your leadership and in your career, it is time to look at how to overcome all of this.

“Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”

Winston Churchill

How to go from fear to momentum

If you are afraid of failure, I invite you first of all to become fully aware of it: to admit it for yourself. You don’t necessarily need to acknowledge it right now in front of others – especially if it makes you uncomfortable! Tell yourself already, without blaming yourself.

Identify thoughts you may have about failure:

  • when I think about this failure, what is the story I tell myself?
  • what is the problem with failing?
  • what am I afraid of because of failure?

How do these thoughts make you feel then? Anxiety? A deep fear? Doubt maybe?

For a long time, I had the syndrome of the good student: I had to do everything well. I was afraid that I would be “scolded”. The problem of thinking that, made me feel lots of negative emotions. Any mistake was a source of shame. I wanted to hide things then, rather than face them. I locked myself in silence, I withdrew into myself, I stopped persevering in my undertakings.

I was in complete inaction and result: I was not moving forward. And of course, I kept blaming myself for it and self-sabotaging my essays. I was caught in a negative and inactive spiral.

Thanks to the coaching tools, I was able to get out of this syndrome and develop a growth mindset, which allowed me to consider these failures differently.

Rather than thinking that I was going to be punished – one way or another – I gradually shifted my way of thinking into something more positive. I was inspired by the journey of people who knew how to fail (and who continue to fail). One of the best-known examples being Thomas Edison, who is said to have built 1000 light bulb concepts before he found the right one. In a more contemporary way (and despite the controversies), Elon Musk is a serial entrepreneur who has also suffered many failures, before succeeding in several of his businesses.

Faced with failure, it is therefore a question of finding the thoughts that will lead you to tell your story differently:

  • how can this failure be an opportunity for you?
  • what do you learn from this failure?
  • how does this failure bring you closer to success?
  • and if this failure was necessary to progress, what happens to you?

Telling myself that a failure or an error are learnings, allow me to project myself towards the future. I feel stronger on my supports. I feel the urge to continue despite everything. Little by little, I am learning to appreciate the lessons and to find other ways of doing things that bring me closer to my goal. I find in these thoughts the impetus to act.

This awareness of your state of mind and your desire to progress will allow you to change. In the next part, I will give you keys to concretely move from fear to action.

6 concrete tools to turn failure into an asset

1. Develop awareness and acceptance

The first step in any change is through becoming aware of and accepting what is, for you, now.

After a failure, take a sheet of paper and a pen and write down everything that comes to mind about it. You can ask yourself the questions mentioned above: when I think about this failure, what is the story I tell myself?

Put words on the emotions that are also going through you. Observe what is happening within you. Acknowledge these emotions and thoughts. Accept them as they are, without judging them. You are human, these are totally OK reactions.

Get help from a coach if this process seems difficult for you to do on your own.

2. Change your thoughts

The second step is to change your perspective on chess, and to practice these new points of view as much as possible: the human brain is plastic and repetition fixes the notion.

You can again ask yourself the questions listed above, to explore the possibilities:

how can this failure be an opportunity for you?

  • what do you learn from this failure?
  • how does this failure bring you closer to success?
  • and if this failure was necessary to progress, what happens to you?

The important thing is that these new points of view are OK for you.

One exercise you can do, if it’s right for you, is to write down one thought that hurts you about failure and cross it out, then write down new helping thoughts, and cross them out. bar until you find one that really suits you. You can then write it to yourself on a post-it and repeat it to yourself as often as possible during the day.

3. Take small risks

To move forward, you can also take small actions, which will allow you to reduce the risk you take. It is for this reason, in particular, that agility invites users to deploy solutions in small increments, as frequently as possible: this is so that the risk linked to failure or errors is as minimal as possible.

If your team is creating a mobile application, you will start with a minimum usable product: a simple functionality, which will allow you to validate the team’s assumptions, faced with the problem of the users. Thus, if the functionality does not give satisfaction, you will not have spent considerable sums, nor a crazy time, to notice it. There will still be time to develop another feature, based on the feedback, which will bring you and your team closer to your goal.

4. Inspect and adapt

Since failure must become something useful, it is crucial to watch what is happening on a regular basis, and adapt decisions and developments, based on these observations. With your team, set up measurement tools to identify what works or not, and look at these measurements regularly. These measures should allow you to have a factual view of things, and help you make decisions.

As suggested by the Lean Startup developed by Eric Ries, the idea is to be able to pivot (change decisions) thanks to the data collected. This mechanism not only works for the products you can design, but also for creating cohesive teams and successful ways of working.

5. Focus on the progress, not the outcome

Another key is to focus on progress towards a goal, rather than the outcome itself. From the moment you have an objective, for you or for your teams, measure the progress. Thus, if failures or obstacles arise, you will have to focus on the solutions to get out of these moments. It is better to progress by 1% every day, continuously, than to remain stuck on errors for days and weeks.

Ask yourself:

  • what do I need to keep progressing towards my goal?
  • what else can I try?

6. Celebrate successes and failures

Finally, learn to celebrate both successes and failures. After the wall of fame, make way for the wall of fail. Or maybe you’ll adopt both with your team! Praise the actions that allow you to move forward, to learn, to become a better person or a better team. Celebrate what creates value for users, for the team, for yourself.

Find a mantra that guides you.

As you have understood, turning failures into opportunities is a process in itself. But you have the ability and all the cards in hand to do so. Focus only on what is in your control (especially your thoughts) to move you in that direction. It’s not just about saying “we all have the right to fail” but about taking full responsibility and doing something positive, for yourself and for others.

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