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Failure. Is There a Bright Side? 5 Ways to Redefine it.

Let’s be honest. Failing can have a negative connotation. But, it’s not all bad. Here’s why.

Growing up, I wasn’t taught to try to get an F or to “fail” a test. But, I was encouraged to try new things. And, if I didn’t like it or if it didn’t go well, to try again. Instead of thinking of failure as a complete negative, what if we reset our perceptions and think of it as a learning opportunity? It’s a new muscle for many of us, but a great one to build.

When you try something and it doesn’t work, you have the opportunity to learn and make adjustments. We’re not talking about delivering an unsuccessful “result.” But, instead, testing an idea, an assumption, a hypothesis – however we choose to describe our starting point – early and learning that it doesn’t add value for our customers. It prompts us to reset our priorities and ensure our efforts and resources are focused on what will add value for the recipients of our work. We may be quick to think, “My idea didn’t resonate with my customer and so it’s a failure.” But, if we adjust our mindset and think of these “failures” as “learnings,” we open ourselves to getting to a better, more valuable solution for them.

I think the concept of failure as a learning opportunity is – for some – about a mindset shift. So, how can we think about failure in a different way?

Here are 5 ways to redefine “I failed”:

1.) “I tested an idea or assumption.”

Often we make assumptions about what we think people (especially our customers) need. By asking early and often “how do I know?” you create the opportunity to validate – or invalidate – these assumptions and learn what will really add value for them.

2.) “I learned something.”

Scientists literally test thousands of hypotheses – learning, failing, and making discoveries. We can too.

3.) “I made a pivot or change.”

If you learn something isn’t adding value, it’s an opportunity to make an adjustment, pivot, or change direction to get to a better outcome.

4.) “I stopped work that wasn’t adding value.”

By learning what doesn’t matter to your colleagues and customers, you can re-allocate your time and resources to what does.

5.) “I tried something new.”

Fear of failure can leave us working the same way, every day. Start small with a minor adjustment, to test and see what you learn.

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