How Are You Failing Forward?

Posted by Greg Michlig Monday, November 11, 2013 11:32:00 AM

Yes, that’s right… failing… are you doing a good job of it? Have you heard of the concept?

It’s a phrase that stuck with me many years ago. I performed a quick online search to see how prevalent this topic is and found that it must have caught the attention of many others as well. There are books, blogs, columns, and full Web sites dedicated to failing forward. I clicked on the top result: www.failforward.com. The following statement is on the homepage: “Failing Forward looks different for different kinds of organizations.” Simple, but accurate.

You don’t really define how to fail, but you know it when it happens, right? It’s taking the concept of “let’s throw these ideas on the wall and see what sticks” to another level. It’s “let’s implement these ideas that are a bit edgy but could be game changing and see what sticks.” Some are simply bound to fail…and that’s okay. It’s what you learn by being innovative that will produce the successes that follow the set-backs.

This topic has come up frequently in my conversations with credit union leaders throughout New Jersey. If your credit union (and the League for that matter) is not looking for ways to move forward, it won’t. And, as the statement says, this will look different for each organization. Risk tolerance levels vary by organization and they should. This is not to say everything is a go-for-broke strategy…but it’s good to set stretch goals and test the limits of your comfort zone.

Now, it should also be understood that the “forward” piece of this strategy significantly outweighs the allotment for “fail.” There needs to be a measured approach to everything and if the results of your efforts show significantly more “fail” than “forward,” adjustments need to be made.

While discussing how this concept has played into the successes of one small-asset credit union I met with, I made a connection to another statement that has stuck with me for many years. It’s something my dad told me when I played high school basketball: “If you’re not getting a couple fouls, you’re not trying hard enough.”

Now, this went against what coaches had been preaching…move your feet, don’t reach, play the angles, DON’T FOUL! But it also made sense to me and has likely played a role in my approach to many things today. I certainly didn’t want to foul out of games and knew that if I was out there hacking everyone, the coach would pull me. But I also became more aggressive and less afraid of picking up a foul (or three).

I remember my final game of high school basketball like it was yesterday. Our team had been ranked as high as #2 in the state within our division and we were in the regional finals. For much of the night I guarded the other team’s top scorer. We had a good team defense and I helped to hold him in check, relative to his usual performances. We went to overtime…and lost. I fouled out at the very beginning of overtime (on what even the radio announcer said was a bad call, by the way).

To use the cliché, I left everything on the floor. Our team was terribly disappointed by what we deemed a failure, but it was also a learning experience. We moved forward and knew that we were stronger because of all the hard work we had put in as a team. We learned that in the grand scheme of things, this would hurt for a while and then fade mostly to the back of our minds. I believe it was a factor in making us more determined in all of our endeavors, leading that group to many successful careers in business.

When you think of it, only one team gets to hoist the championship trophy at the end of each season. Knowing this, athletes choose to “get in the game” despite the likelihood that their last game will be a loss. But that does not deter them from doing whatever they can to make that last game a win because they know they will be better for it in the long run.

Are you in the game or on the sidelines? Do you have the tolerance to fail forward…even a little? Give it some thought. If we all fail forward a little, I believe that as a movement, we can move forward a lot. 

Comments

Comments are closed on this post.