How to Learn from Failure

What do you think of when you hear the word failure? For many it’s a scary thought. It’s something that we spend our careers trying to avoid. And while no one ever really wants to fail, you and your team can learn to reframe failure as a way to learn and help grow your business.

Here are some ways to create a company culture that grows from failure:

Create a space to celebrate and discuss failure

This has to start with you (and your management team) embracing mistakes and be willing to talk about them. When your staff sees leadership discussing mistakes, they’re more willing and likely to bring up their own mistakes as well.

By debriefing about what went wrong, and discussing ideas to avoid it next time, you’re setting a tone and creating a culture that encourages people to own up to mistakes and grow.

When constructing the debrief, consider the tone, place, and participants. You want to make sure the feedback and lessons for growth fall on receptive ears.

Conduct SWOT analysis regularly

Even before you fail, conducting an analysis of your company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) can help you ultimately succeed.

You can run this exercise individually, by team within your company, or with the entire staff in a whiteboard session. Start by identifying what strengths your company has internally and externally in the market. Then, write down where within the company things are not working properly. Next, identify how the company can improve and what you can take advantage of. Finally, look at what your competitors are doing and how that can threaten your business.

When you fail, try something new

Failing gives your team the opportunity to try another way to succeed.

Steph Korey, the cofounder and CEO of luggage company Away, wrote in Entrepreneur about how in its first year, the company realized its products wouldn’t be ready for the holiday season. At first, this seemed like a disaster and a big miss.

Korey wrote that, instead, the company used this as an opportunity to create a book about travel and set the tone it wanted for its product. In the book, Away offered a gift card that could then be applied to a customer’s first purchase when the product was ready. This ended up giving the company insight into demand for the product when it was actually ready to launch — a rarity for a startup.

When your company fails, think about ways you can use it to create a rare opportunity.

Use celebrities for inspiration

You can Google “quotes about failure” and find any number of sayings to motivate employees or cheer yourself up on the days that failure is at your doorstep. Words of wisdom from some of the most successful people may be the reminder your team needs.

“Amazon will be experimenting at the right scale for a company of our size if we occasionally have multibillion-dollar failures,” Jeff Bezos CEO of Amazon, wrote in April in the company’s annual letter to shareholders. “If the size of your failures isn’t growing, you’re not going to be inventing at a size that can actually move the needle.”

For sports lovers, you can reference Michael Jordan’s famous quote, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Reflecting on some of the failures (and perseverance) of some of our favorite people is a nice boost before going on to the next project.

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