Failure to Phoenix: 7 Lessons to Learn from Failure

In Greek mythology, the phoenix lives a long life, exits spectacularly in flames, and then rises from the ashes of seemingly permanent death to live and flourish again. All organizations experience a similar cycle – if they’re lucky. What makes the difference between failing permanently and mitigating and recovering from failure? Having a recovery plan.

“Failure” connotes fear of judgment, rejection, danger, embarrassment, and defeat. It may stall our progress, but it doesn’t necessarily block it permanently if learning from it helps us avoid similar pitfalls down the road. So a recovery plan that takes into consideration lessons learned by ourselves and others is essential. Those of innovative spirit optimize their past mistakes: they make lemonade out of lemons. But how exactly can we recover from failure and restart our progress toward final success?

A company culture that dares to ask this question and designs and implements an intelligent plan to address it will attract and retain leaders, investors, and innovative teams.

Important research has identified some practices that help companies recover from failure more quickly. Amy Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School and author of Strategies for Learning from Failure (Harvard Business Review, April 2011) advises taking these measures:

    1. Minimize blame. When someone reports bad news or failure, they too, are often blamed. Be fair and don’t shoot the messenger. Negative emotions inhibit teamwork, dampen enthusiasm, and thereby negatively impact productivity. The result is compounding, rather than removing, the ill effects of failure.
    2. Instead, create psychological safety. Google conducted an intensive study on the most innovative teams and discovered that people who feel safe reporting unwelcome results and sharing information and ideas without fear of reprisal perform better.
    3. Understand the reason(s) for the failure. If a team fails because it has violated policies or procedures, future failure can be avoided by discovering the reasons for non-compliance and designing more viable solutions that ensure higher levels of compliance.
    4. Be mindful of error prevention and mitigation. Some failures are caused by unforeseen circumstances, from unpredictable forces. Regardless of the causes of failure, learning from it prevents future ones. Also, monitor and evaluate cause and effect along the way to help identify and correct problems as they arise. Doing so could help you prevent them from turning into catastrophes.
    5. New systems are proving grounds. Experimentation goes part and parcel with creating and introducing new products and services. Some experiments work, and others don’t. Each does provide useful data, however, so documenting lessons learned is as important as managing the risk that experimentation entails.
    6. Don’t shortchange yourself on analysis. Superficial analysis done quickly probably won’t uncover the core reason for a failure. The one which, at first look, appears to be the reason often isn’t the actual, deeper one. Employ techniques such as “The 5 Whys” to drill down to the root cause.
    7. Supportive culture fosters recovery. Communication among all involved that is frank, complete, and accurate, but delivered in a supportive way, is essential to mitigate the harm negative turns have caused. It also makes for speedier recoveries from failures.

Managers who master failure’s lessons improve their chances for advancement. These managers are the phoenixes, rising from the ashes of failure. Where do they land? – often in the C-Suite, where turnaround specialists, change-makers, and innovators abound.

For more information about how to differentiate your tasks and problems, explore

Originally posted at Forbes.

For more information about how to differentiate your tasks and problems, explore

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed

J. Eduardo Campos, EMPA CISSP CPP (He/Him)

Board Member | Author | Executive Coach | Advisor
Talks about #ciso, #cybersecurity, #executivecoaching, #leadershipdevelopment, and #artificialintelligence