I'm not sure where I first heard this phrase. It has been floating around my head a lot lately. It is a useful phrase when thinking about politics, business, writing, new projects, anything really... Often we get bogged down trying to figure out how to do something perfectly or waiting until we have more and more information until we can make the perfect decision. Unfortunately perfect rarely if ever comes and so we either end up not doing something, not making a decision or dissatisfied with the outcome because our expectations are impossible to meet.
I always think about this phrase in relation to politics and since we are finally coming to the end of a federal election it is on my mind. Some voters have a hard time deciding on a party or candidate because the election commitments don't line up exactly with what we each want to happen. Party records are judged on whether or not every single commitment was kept and if one was neglected or dropped the party is judged to have failed and broken promises, regardless of how many they actually kept.
More so this phrase is on my mind in the context of launching new ventures. I attended a small business conference this week and the afternoon included a small business owner interviewing a larger small business - or perhaps a medium-sized owner. I'm not sure of the official definitions of when a small business becomes a medium or large enterprise. In each of these cases I would say it was relative. Relative to the owner of a single coffee shop, a chain of 16 shops is big. In comparison to a multinational coffee shop enterprise, a 16 shop chain is a rounding error.
These interview sessions were great. It was an excellent format and it was interesting to hear the small owner digging for keys to success and seeking guidance from the owner of the larger venture in their field. Among the things they talked about were their failures.
Failure is such an important learning opportunity and we unfortunately often look at failure as a negative thing. In high school I was at a conference where a speaker told us there was no such thing as failure, only feedback. I have tried to hold on to that line ever since. I look for the feedback in every experience, no matter how the planned outcome matches (or doesn't) with the actual results.
We often don't give others the room to fail anymore. If a government makes a decision that ultimately yields poor results, the opposing parties are quick to jump on it and use the perceived failure as a bludgeon with which to beat the governing party. This tendency has resulted in governments and governing parties that are risk-averse and afraid to try new things that could go wrong. Private companies are given more room to make mistakes, but if they are too big, they are punished by their shareholders. Entrepreneurs are encouraged to make mistakes, although those mistakes can be financially challenging for a small business and any staff that they might have working for them.
Often it is the fear of failure that prevents us from taking the next step or making a decision. What if we make the wrong choice or if we think we are ready to do something and it turns out that we aren't. We might procrastinate while we try to figure out how to mitigate the risk or we may just spend time ruminating on the possible outcomes. Sometimes we just sit on an idea because we think it is going to be harder than it is to get started.
When we live in fear of failure, we procrastinate to avoid doing things that could result in failure. We are afraid of how others will judge us when we set out to do something new and it doesn't work. We fear looking dumb in front of others. I saw this take place in a small way at a craft show where I was exhibiting recently and had some of my balance boards out for testing.