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6 steps on how to admit failure

“I have not failed, I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.”
(Thomas Edison)

Failing to achieve previously set goals is an incidence everyone of us will be faced with eventually. And even though it might make us feel embarrassed or upset for not hitting that target, denial of failure forecloses the chance to identify the source of malfunction and eliminating it.

However, it might still be hard to admit failure and/or take the blame, since commiting oneself to the consequences on a personal level seems to be the bigger negative than the positive impact of prospective error avoidance to the team or the company.

Does that mean that the admittance of failure should be incentivized? I don’t think so, on one hand, because it contains the risk that people will become too casual in dealing with failure and might as a result, increase the failure-rate. On the other hand I think that employees should be encourage to commit to their actions and demerits, and provide them with the tools to learn from shortcomings and help to avoid repetitive occurrences.

I recently came across the article ‘Why I hire people who fail’. The author of this post implemented a system in his company called “Failure Wall” that encouraged his employees to publicly admit to their failures. At the end of his article he wrote about the management-hiring-process and even affirmed that “It’s a red flag to me if a candidate can’t admit a mistake with a bit of self-deprecating humor.”

Thus, I created a 6-step-plan to admit failure and their use for future success:

  1. Reflect carefully on what went wrong
  2. Self-critically find the source of failure
  3. Think about how you could have avoided it
  4. Deduce the lessons that you have learned from the mistake
    (several methods are possible to use during this step, one might be 5S)
  5. Share your experience with others
    (privately, in your working environment or even publicly on platforms like http://www.admittingfailure.com/)
  6. Openly discuss it

Today’s post is inspired by a TED-talk titled ‘What happens when an NGO admits failure’.

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