Failure itself or the fear of failure – what costs us more?

Many of us went through school petrified of getting things wrong. Just do something, anything. Make some clever mark, so it will look as if you have tried. Then they will ignore you and “pick” on another child.

As a business mentor, the more I mention this syndrome to clients, the more people that nod their heads back to me in agreement. Yup, “me too”, they are saying. Been there and done that.

And the relevance of all this several decades on? These same individuals have grown up and many have done well at university. They have opened a business. They can point to some form of success, socially and commercially. And they have all one other thing in common – they have “got stuck”.

Whatever the business, they are all stuck with the same thing. They find any excuse to move forward.  Some will come up all kinds of spin to explain away lack of progress, but it remains spin. Procrastination rules OK.

And the reason for the excess of hot air and the lower revenue levels is that they were taught not to make a mistake. It will be bad. You may get punished. You will get a low mark. Your contemporaries will not like you. Crawl into your shell or hide the problem.

The real problem is that these same teachers forgot to explain that you can also learn so much from your mistakes, and then move on to better things. It may sound strange but by getting things wrong, you can then begin to make more money.

It is the latest issue of the Harvard Business Review, which highlights all of these themes in detail. The magazine effectively gives”a stamp of approval to failure”.

Failure. We’re hypocrites about it. Go online, and you’ll find scores of pleasant aphorisms celebrating the inevitability of failure and the importance of learning from it. But in real life — and in real companies — failure is anathema. We’re afraid of it. We avoid it. We penalize it. It’s time for managers to get past platitudes and confront the F-word taboo

“Failure is inevitable and out of our control. But we can choose to understand it, to learn from it, and to recover from it.” Why did nobody talk to me like that when I was growing up.

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