“Failure happens.” Is that your bumpersticker? It should be because no matter what, it will happen. It just depends on us what type of failure it will be.
This bumper sticker embodies the sentiment behind what I call Intrinsic Failure – the third type of failure (#1 Pandemic, #2 Catastrophic). It happens. If we want to be successful there is nothing we can do about avoiding some failure.
Indeed, this type of failure is good. How failure be good? First, it says that we are trying. If we don’t fail sometimes, we aren’t trying hard enough.
I know some that never fail. Yet they never really progress, either. They are stagnant. They stay where they are and let every wind of adversity or trial blow them around. (Yet this, in and of itself, is a type of failure.) They rarely stand up and fight against the wind, get blown down, stand up again and keep fighting. All the while, becoming stronger and learning how to adapt and beat the wind.
Intrinsic Failure also is a GREAT way to learn. You see, failure rarely happens without a healthy dose of trust. If your employee has trust in your management, she will be willing to take risks and try some new things. Some will work, others won’t. If she doesn’t trust your management, then in order to keep her job she will play it safe and only do that which she is certain will work. We see this scenario played out in thousands of companies every day.
So the amount of trust someone feels leads to the amount they will intrinsically fail. More trust, more Intrinsic Failure – which is good! Because this leads directly to how much they will learn. No failure = little learning. The higher the learning, the higher the chance innovation and growth. The higher the innovation, the more progress will happen. But if we have low trust, and if we follow the trail on down the line, we will have little progress.
Intrinsic failure is a necessity. It is a bit odd, because we think that in stressful times we have to play it safe, not take risks so that we can avoid failure. I think there is some truth to that (let’s use common sense), but at the same time if we want to progress, we must be willing to intrinsically fail. We can’t take it out altogether.
After giving a keynote speech at Enterprise 2.0 in Santa Clara on Failure, Steve Wylie and I sat down and talked about failure and successes. At about the 50 second mark, I make the statement “What we want to do is nurture the intrinsic type of failure… Not that we are looking for failure…” And this statement confused some people.
It is not that we try to nurture any one failure itself and compound the negative effects. Rather we want to nurture the conditions in which intrinsic failure happens. Because, remember, failure WILL happen – what kind of failure it will be is an outcome you can have a large influence in. Personally, I would rather nurture failure we can learn from than failure that is Pandemic or Catastrophic. Then when this good type does happen, nurture its effects (learning, innovation, progress). As I said in that bit, “The more we fail intrinsically, the more we learn.”
There might be a tipping point when intrinsic failure outweighs the good that will come of it, but I don’t think so. I don’t have anything to back this up except for experience and mental exercises, but I believe that the more you allow intrinsic failure to happen, the more success will come of it. Then, successes will far outweigh the failures (which is a characteristic of intrinsic failure). But if we are not trying to learn from our failures, then it isn’t Intrinsic failure, it is Pandemic.
If people take advantage and recklessly abuse the trust to fail and do so without learning, it ceases to be intrinsic failure and instead becomes a fourth type of failure, Apathetic Failure (I’ll write about this later).
My Challenge To You: Evaluate your workplace, your home life, your other activities for the level of trust and see how it correlates to the amount of Intrinsic Failure. Also, try to turn other types of failure into Intrinsic Failure.