Millions of people are suffering from a debilitating condition. Physical symptoms include an increased heart rate, dizziness, difficulty breathing, trembling or shaking, and tightness in the chest. Emotional symptoms include feeling powerless, anxious, intense panic, and fear. It’s called atychiphobia, but most people know it as the “fear of failure.”
In many ways, fearing failure is instinctual. We naturally avoid risk — scientists call this the safety bias. This defense mechanism of the brain and body keeps us alive and prevents us from entering or remaining in dangerous situations.
With less physical risks in our modern world, our brains now try to shield us from things like shame, embarrassment, and failure. Our tolerance for pain and discomfort, even emotional discomfort, is so low that most of us prefer the elimination of all risk to choosing an alternative option that would produce a greater outcome overall. But playing it safe is riskier than you think. To thrive in today’s complex digital economy, we need to not only tolerate failure but embrace it.
The necessity of failure
Google, one of the most successful companies in history, set out to discover the key ingredients behind successful teams. The study, dubbed Project Aristotle, took place over multiple years and involved thousands of people. So what did they discover? The number one trait amongst the highest-performing teams was psychological safety:
“In a team with high psychological safety, teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members. They feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea.”
So clearly, there’s a link between innovation and embracing failure. In our era of unprecedented disruption and change, companies that don’t take risks find themselves fading into obsolescence, or worse, bankruptcy. It’s absolutely critical to a company’s survival for risk-taking to be part of its DNA and culture. Modern history is littered with corporate behemoths that went the way of the dodo because of a lack of innovation and risk-taking.
Some of the world’s most brilliant minds have not just tolerated failure, but encouraged it.
- “Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.” – Elon Musk
- “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” – Bill Gates
- “You have to be willing to act. You have to be willing to crash and burn, to fail, or you won’t get very far.” – Steve Jobs.
The power of mindset
Babe Ruth is one of the most famous baseball players of all time, idolized by millions around the globe. Even people who don’t follow baseball can tell you that he set a record for home runs. But did you know that he also set a record for the most strikeouts?
“A batter was supposed to protect the plate, get a piece of the ball, as in the cognate game of cricket,” wrote biographer Robert Creamer in his book “<a target="_blank" …read more
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