The “oops” principle. If you fail, if you don’t get what you were planning, or didn’t go as far as you had planned, sometimes your first instinct is to beat yourself up. This is normal. “I can’t do this. It’s too hard. I’m not good enough, competent enough, smart enough.” These sentiments are often echoed by our rivals, our bosses, our friends and neighbors, and even our families. “What were you thinking? You know you don’t have the training to do that! No one in our family has ever done that. It won’t work, never has before.” Why do we consistently look backwards? What good does it do to revel in our shortcomings?
However, using the “oops” principle, we learn something from the experience, but we don’t wallow in our mistakes. A failure is not a character trait. It is a misstep, a challenge that we can learn to conquer. In viewing our failings and mistakes in this manner, we can move forward and experiment with new approaches. If we are not afraid of failure, then we become more successful. When we are younger, we don’t consider failure permanent, though there may be some pain or discomfort. “Oh! so sitting on an ant nest can be rather painful!” “Oh so you can come down the stairs in multiple ways (some less painful than others.)” “Oh my. Why does my leg feel warm?” “Why do I have to color in the lines?” Somehow, these children actually grow up to be accountants and football stars.
Where then do we get the idea that failure is not an option? Why can’t failure be an option? Failure is not an end product, it is on the path to success. There has to be some type of failure in order to process new information more efficiently. We start school and now we are graded on how well we learn. Only the measurement is not what or how we’ve learned, but whether or not we agree with what the teacher and the school board and the educational professionals say. We stop solving problems and start learning to regurgitate information. Then they ask us to solve problems in arithmetic. In this situation, there is only 1 answer. It’s either right or wrong. But that’s not what they teach us. The teachers insist that the process is more important than the bottom line. This is only applicable in elementary school. Every other mathematical endeavor is consumed by the search for the right answer. The boss doesn’t care if you used the communicative property or the associative property to get the answer, he just wants to know how big this piece of equipment has to be. He only cares whether or not his company has made a profit. He only cares if the tolerances are within the parameters.
In sports, failure is not an option. Why? because otherwise you get fired. In order to have a flawless game, the practice must be full of mistakes. You cannot correct what you don’t know is substandard. In music, failure makes the concert unbearable. In practice, you learn to correct mistakes and move the tempo faster or slower. You experiment with interpretation, volume, blend, melody, harmony, improvisation. Every experiment flirts with disaster. Without this approach, improvisation becomes boring. Performance becomes lifeless and dull. Anyone that has learned how to sing or play an instrument knows that the mistakes are temporary and it takes time to perfect the craft through improving the individual challenges. If a student has to work on a Bach Prelude, he has to know he cannot play it perfectly the 1st time. He tries anyway. He doesn’t berate himself because he can’t do it in a short period of time.
Neither should we. The best phrase, besides oops of course, is, “Huh, well that was interesting.” Approach it from a different standpoint. Try it slower, try it faster. Try things in a different order. Get some feedback, get some inspiration, get some help, do some research. Reflect on your attempts, then make changes. It isn’t failure unless you quit trying. Learn to love finding alternatives! You can do this…whatever “this” is. As a leader, if you treat your mistakes as mistakes and not character flaws and expect the same approach from your followers, be prepared for explosive growth!