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OWNER'S MANUAL

Most Important Failure to Embrace
 

Maybe you already proudly "fail fast and fail often." There's one type of failure you're probably still avoiding--but shouldn't.

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For something so painful, failure--at least as a topic--is awfully popular.

Look around. Smart people say we should all fail fast and fail often. Smart people say failure can be the best teacher, and that failure is the foundation of innovation. Evidently Silicon Valley loves failures, and you should too.

As a result you may have decided not to fear failure... and to actually embrace it.

That's cool, but there's another type of failure you probably aren't embracing, much less seeking--but you should.

Here's why.

If you are like most business owners you have what John Updike, referring to the baseball player Ted Williams--long before Ted became better known for the whole cryogenics thing--called an intensity of competence: You know, thoroughly and completely, your business, your market, and your customers.

And everyone knows it.

That means your employees let you think you're right, even when you're not. Few are brave or presumptuous enough to tell you otherwise.

They have no choice but to tell you what you want to hear.

And that makes you the king or queen of your business.

Wearing a crown is a powerful feeling but royalty has its downside. When you're all-powerful it's incredibly easy to stop questioning your decisions, your perspective, and your approach to solving problems.

Even worse you can lose the ability to see yourself from your employees' point of view. It's almost impossible to run a company and lead others when you've lost all perspective on what it's like to make mistakes--and not have all the answers.

So what can you do? Go do something difficult--and fail.

Except this time set out to fail in a different way. Don't fail fast and often inside your business. Business failures cost time and money that most of us don't have; I've never seen an operating budget with "Intentional Failures" as a line item.

Instead fail at something outside your business. Set a reach goal you know you can't reach. If you normally run three miles in 21 minutes, try to run five miles in 35 minutes. Play a sport and compete with people who are a lot better than you. Try to do your high school kid's homework. If you aren't willing to step outside your business, just go help an employee do her job for a few hours and try to keep up: I guarantee she'll outperform you.

Just make sure to give whatever you pick your all. Do your absolute best. Leave no room for excuses. The goal is to fail... but not for lack of trying.

In my case I like to fail at physical activities. While I may be decent at what I do for a living, when I go riding with local pro cyclists or play pick-up basketball with college kids they don't care about my professional accomplishments. I'm judged solely on my merits on a bike or a basketball court... and I'm definitely found wanting.

And that's a good thing. Failure isn't defeating; failure is motivating. Failure doesn't just motivate me to improve a skill. Failure also provides a healthy and instant dose of perspective. Failure makes me more tolerant and patient of other people who struggle or fail.

Why? It's really hard to feel superior or judgmental or dismissive--of anyone--when you just got your rear handed to you.

So go fail. Afterwards you'll be a different person. At work you'll still be the king or queen, but you will have left your crown at home.

Your employees will appreciate the difference.

And who knows--they might even start telling you what you need to hear.

IMAGE: Jupiter Images/Getty
Last updated: Aug 28, 2012

JEFF HADEN learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.
@jeff_haden




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