We have all been reading the books and hearing the innovation experts and gurus speak and preach about the need for experimentation and failing wisely in innovation environments. All that is good in theory. What about the real life? What happens in your organization when you fail? How does your leadership assist you in this transition? What happens in the team dynamics? What happens with you?
I failed big time recently. And it traumatizes and immobilizes me. It gets me on a rollercoaster of emotions. It’s difficult to deal with the abrupt changes between being celebrated the one day, and being the pariah the other day. Or should I find solace in the fact that at least, I still have highs (and lows) in corporate life? Some friends and colleagues don’t even have that luxury: they are being beaten up all the time.
It’s not the first time this happens to me: failing big time. Being awarded and congratulated for stellar performance in one fiscal year and then being dropped a couple of days later due to changed priorities in the new fiscal year. So where is the pattern? What can I learn from it? How don’t I get “trapped” in the same mechanism of self-defense over and over again?
When the failing hits, I indeed tend to “protect” my vulnerability and myself by avoiding contact, by being silent, not expressing myself, while at the same time feeling deep anger inside. I am turning in circles, can’t concentrate nor focus, and become cynical. It damages my performance. How can I voice my soul, my emotional state and psychology of failing, the human emotions, and the intimate collateral damage that go with all this? How can I resurrect from failure?
It happens that Adam Dachis (@adachis) just wrote a post about this, titled “The Psychology Behind the Importance of Failure”, and quotes Heidi Grant Halvorson (@hghalvorson), shared with me by Jennifer Sertl (@jennifersertl).
The problem with the Be-Good mindset is that it tends to cause problems when we are faced with something unfamiliar or difficult. We start worrying about making mistakes, because mistakes mean that we lack ability, and this creates a lot of anxiety and frustration. Anxiety and frustration, in turn, undermine performance by compromising our working memory, disrupting the many cognitive processes we rely on for creative and analytical thinking. Also, when we focus too much on doing things perfectly (i.e., being good), we don’t engage in the kind of exploratory thinking and behavior that creates new knowledge and innovation.
So here you are: you have read all the books, seen all the greatest speakers, got the best personal coaches, followed all the personal development journeys you can imagine, you even preached yourself to others the benefits and adrenaline effects of going for your true self. And then you get hit. And you don’t know what to do, how to react, how to stand-up, how to reboot, how to get alive again.
Here are a couple of questions for all you innovators out there. Some areas where I would like to know how YOU coped with that situation, and what we all can learn from it.
- You have a project of a lifetime. You stick out your neck big time and after lots of blood, sweat and tears, corporate priorities change, and your project is stopped from one day to another. How do you cope with that? Do you have examples of how you turned that sort of failure into a success? A crisis into an opportunity? I don’t know yet a good way how to do this, other than sweating out your time and hoping for the better.
- Igniting change and innovating also means being a corporate rebel. You walk the edges of corporate accepted behaviors in 95% of the cases, you succeed keeping that balance. But sometimes you go over the edge. How does that behaviour impact the perception others have of you? Does it impact your performance reviews? How can you avoid paying the price?
- In innovation, the pedestal of success and the bin of the pariah are oh-so-close. On the pedestal of success, you are full of energy, even arrogant at times, sometimes preaching. But always with your heart at the right place and a deep intention for doing good for your company and the folks who work for it. Some people call it “irresistible enthusiasm”, and get energized when they hear your voice and they see the sparks in your eyes. Others – the criticasters – believe you are member of the “ego-tribe”. You sense jealousy from those who don’t have your opportunities, who don’t have a flexible boss like yours, who don’t enjoy executive sponsorship, some call it executive “protection”. When you fail, all that positive juice flows away. You’re empty handed. It’s time for revenge, for presenting the emotional invoices. Nobody comes to sit at your table at lunch; nobody wants to be seen with the one who just failed. You have been burned. What’s your experience with that? How do you cope with that?
- What is your experience and reaction with abrupt changes of priorities, change of guards, change of budgets? What do you do when your marching orders change from one day to another? What if you don’t feel aligned with the new directions suggested or imposed? Especially when you just failed and are super vulnerable? Should you just brace for a while and hope for the turn of tides, of keep acting based on what your intimate true self tells you about what is right or wrong for yourself or for the organization you work for and deeply care about? Who has ever done and experienced something like that? Please share your wounds and healings.
- Corporate world has the reputation of being a world of extroverts. But at least half of the workforce is introvert. I am and never was superman. I am not the vocal extrovert; I am more the reflecting introvert. Many of us are sensitive human beings. Many men have more feminine energy than women and the other way around. Where do you go when you fail? Where do you find a shoulder to cry on? When and how do you deal with pretending to be untouchable in formal settings and/or as team leader? Should you dare to show your vulnerability with trusted colleagues or friends? Can we look through the crack in you and wonder at the light inside?
- Is there überhaupt something like trust in business, or is it indeed like one of my first managers in my career told me “never trust anybody in business”. Have I become old and cynical? Judgmental? Control freak? In other words have I become all the things I never wanted to become and ended up on the flip sides of my ideals “Open Heart, Open Mind, Open Will” inspired by Otto Sharmer’s “Theory U”?
The bottom line question really is: how do I keep being present and aligned with my true self, when the going gets though in periods of failure? And who is holding a space for me when I long for help in healing my injuries?
“Life of a frontrunner is hard one; he/she will suffer & many of these injuries will not be accidental” ~ Pele
I know that many Corporate Rebels struggle with this. We can support each other by sharing what works and what does not work in these circumstances. Because I have the deep belief that resurrecting from failure is one of the core elements of creating a practice for value creation.
Credit: Fallen picture by Kerry Skarbakka http://www.skarbakka.com/