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But how do they encourage the right kinds of mistakes?

22 Brilliant Insights From Richard Branson

The growing acceptance of failure is changing the way companies approach innovation. Still others launch two or more projects with the same goal, sending teams in different directions simultaneously. Everyone hates to fail. And nowhere is the fear of failure more intense and debilitating than in the competitive world of business, where a mistake can mean losing a bonus, a promotion, or even a job.

During his years leading Monsanto, Robert Shapiro was struck by how terrified his employees were of failing. They had been trained to see an unsuccessful product or project as a personal rebuke. Shapiro tried hard to change that perception, knowing that it hindered the kind of creative thinking that fueled his business. He explained to his employees that every product and project was an experiment and that its backers failed only if their experiment was a halfhearted, careless effort with poor results.

They try to break down the social and bureaucratic barriers that separate them from their followers.

Two reasons companies fail -- and how to avoid them - Knut Haanaes

They engage at a personal level with the people they lead. They avoid giving either praise or criticism, preferring to take a nonjudgmental, analytical posture as they interact with staff. They openly admit their own mistakes rather than covering them up or shifting the blame. And they try to root out the destructive competitiveness built into most organizations. First and foremost, though, failure-tolerant leaders push people to see beyond simplistic, traditional definitions of failure.

They know that as long as someone views failure as the opposite of success rather than its complement, that person will never be able to take the risks necessary for innovation. Of course, there are failures and there are failures. Some mistakes are lethal—producing and marketing a dysfunctional car tire, for example.

At no time can management be casual about issues of health and safety. Just the opposite. Managing for failure requires executives to be more engaged, not less. Although mistakes are inevitable when launching innovation initiatives, management cannot abdicate its responsibility to assess the nature of the failures. Some are excusable errors; others are simply the result of sloppiness. Those willing to take a close look at what happened and why can usually tell the difference. Failure-tolerant leaders identify excusable mistakes and approach them as outcomes to be examined, understood, and built upon.

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They often ask simple but illuminating questions when a project falls short of its goals:. Distinguishing between excusable and inexcusable failure offers two broad benefits. First, it gives managers a tool to build a nonpunitive environment for mistake making while allowing them to encourage thoughtfully pursued projects that, should they fail, will yield productive mistakes.

Second, it allows managers to nonjudgmental promote the sort of productive mistake making that is the basis for learning. Success can be approached in much the same way. Like mistakes, all successes are not created equal. A success due to a fortunate accident is not the organizational equivalent of one resulting from a thoughtfully pursued project. Thus, successes might be approached with questions similar to those posed about failures. How much was due to good fortune, how much to the hard work of its creators?

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Did the success move us closer to our goals? By taking this perspective and raising such questions, managers can begin to treat success and failure similarly, more like the siblings they actually are. Some managers may find that idea difficult to embrace. Treat success and failure the same? Well, no. We suggest a different approach.


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The best coaches take victory and defeat in stride. Through engagement. That process is more collaborative than supervisory. What kinds of problems are you having? Taking the long view, what might the next steps be? Conversations are less about whether the project is succeeding or failing than about what can be learned from the experience. In this zone, evaluation is less relevant than the subject of where to go from here.

Enlightened managers strive to be collaborative rather than controlling.


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Only through engaged conversations over time can managers create failure-tolerant work environments that invite innovation. But astute managers mark the daily progress of small successes and failures with an evenhanded, open curiosity about the lessons learned and the next steps to take. Listening is more central to this process than talking. Nothing does more for productivity, morale, and employee retention. Less praise? They have indeed. But psychologists who have studied the effects of praise question its value.

As with criticism, compliments can actually demotivate people. Recipients may feel manipulated or think too much is expected of them. In one study, students praised less by their science teachers did a better job of conducting experiments on their own than the ones who were praised more. That is why, in place of perfunctory praise, many educators are shifting to a teaching style in which they ask questions, give feedback, and show interest, but are spare with compliments. So a manager cannot suddenly stop praising an employee who has come to expect it.

Genuine engagement, though, can require far more time than the 11 minutes per task that managers spend, on average. Because involvement takes more time than keeping your distance, occasions for doing so must be chosen carefully. The more involved you get with employees, the harder it becomes to reprimand them when necessary.

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Although not the same as personal friendships, engaged professional relationships resemble them in ways that can hinder the supervisory process. The open-ended, less formal nature of an engaged relationship can lead to the unexplored terrain where innovation lies. Perls ' book Gestalt Theory Verbatim , where he wrote on p. Einstein has proved that the universe is limited. The quote itself may be a variant of a similar quote attributed even earlier to the philosopher Ernest Renan , found for example in The Public: Volume 18 from , which says on p.

Move Beyond Success and Failure

Since these variants have not been found in Renan's own writings, they may represent false attributions as well. They may also be variants of an even older saying; for example, the book Des vers by Guy de Maupassant includes on p. The earth has its boundaries, but human stupidity is infinite!

The Failure-Tolerant Leader

Aber beim Universum bin ich mir nicht ganz sicher. Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous. No original source where Einstein supposedly said this has been located, and it is absent from authoritative sources such as Calaprice, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein. Misattributed [ edit ] I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots. Variants : I fear the day when the technology overlaps with our humanity.

The world will only have a generation of idiots. I fear the day when technology overlaps our humanity. It will be then that the world will have permanent ensuing generations of idiots. Although it is a popular quote on the internet, there is no substantial evidence that Einstein actually said that. Contempt prior to investigation is what enslaves a mind to Ignorance. This or similar statements are more often misattributed to Herbert Spencer , but the source of the phrase "contempt prior to investigation" seems to have been William Paley , A View of the Evidences of Christianity : "The infidelity of the Gentile world, and that more especially of men of rank and learning in it, is resolved into a principle which, in my judgment, will account for the inefficacy of any argument, or any evidence whatever, viz.

Then I looked to the great editors of the newspapers whose flaming editorials in days gone by had proclaimed their love of freedom; but they, like the universities, were silenced in a few short weeks. Then I looked to individual writers who, as literary guides of Germany, had written much and often concerning the place of freedom in modern life; but they, too, were mute. After the quote appeared in Time magazine 23 December , p.

I made this statement during the first years of the Nazi-Regime — much earlier than — and my expressions were a little more moderate. Cornelius Greenway of Brooklyn, who asked if Einstein would write out the statement in his own hand, Einstein was more vehement in his repudiation of the statement 14 November [12] : The wording of the statement you have quoted is not my own. Einstein also made some scathingly negative comments about the behavior of the Church under the Nazi regime and its behavior towards Jews throughout history in a conversation with William Hermanns recorded in Hermanns' book Einstein and the Poet The concentration camps make the actions of Ghengis Khan look like child's play.

But what makes me shudder is that the Church is silent. One doesn't need to be a prophet to say, 'The Catholic Church will pay for this silence. Hermanns, you will live to see that there is moral law in the universe.