Some years ago, I was working with a group of managers in a manufacturing company.  One day, I asked  “how comfortable are you about saying  “I don’t know” around here?”

They weren’t.  At all.  Saying “I don’t know” was a symptom of a fear of failure that was endemic in their culture.  That fear paralysed some very talented individuals and was getting in their way big time.  They had lost the ability to summons the courage to have a go, to fall over and get back up again.

I remembered this interaction this morning when I read Garr Reynolds’ post – Before success comes the courage to fail.  “An old Japanese proverb says “Even monkeys fall from trees.” (Saru mo ki kara ochiru — 猿も木から落ちる.) Somehow knowing this allows us to push past fear and to participate more fully as we embrace or own imperfections, even as we work to improve.”

I wonder how much we contribute to the fear of failure in others and paralyse them from acting – looking for the mistakes, ‘helpfully’ pointing out what they could have done better and building error rates into performance management (eg targets).  Perfection sucks.  Really it does.  It’s not achievable.  It is not real.  It is not human.

Last year Alexander Kjerulf posted his Top 5 Reasons to Celebrate Mistakes.  It includes this photograph of a poster in the offices of Menlo Innovations, an IT company in Ann Arbor, Michigan:

Make mistakes faster

Alexander says “Yep, it says “Make mistakes faster”. They know that mistakes are an integral part of doing anything cool and interesting and the sooner you can screw up, the sooner you can learn and move on.”

Lynn Walsh – workshop and meeting facilitator – Sydney, Australia

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